Friday, October 23, 2015

Peter Winstrup

In June of this year, national news made a report about an interesting find, a fetus, hidden in the coffin of a mummified Bishop. That is were my story begins. Being intrigued by the story, I read all about it. I became not only interested in the fetus, but also in the Bishop, Peder Winstrup. I had an upcoming trip to Denmark and I was excited to learn that Lund University, the University in charge of the study of Mr. Winstrup, was not far from where I would be. After making arrangements with the museums director, a date and time was set to meet the mummy of Peder Winstrup.

The Two Men I Met in Lund

Tucked behind the Lund Cathedral, which was founded in 1080, in the south of Sweden, lies the Lund University Historical Museum. It is a wonderful museum with rooms of varying interests ranging from Zoological displays, Medieval Church art, to  Iron and Stone Age artifacts. I met up with the museums director, Mr. Per Karsten, and he took me around for a guided tour of many of the different exhibits. I could sense his love of history and antiquity by the excitement in his voice as he shared valuable information with me about some of the artifacts that the museum houses. Before meeting Mr. Winstrup, Mr. Karsten wanted to introduce me to the life and times of the mummified Bishop. I was told that he was born in Denmark in 1605. He was a very well educated man, holding many titles including; Doctor of Theology, Chaplain to the Danish King, architect, and printer. He had a real love of learning. In 1658 at a dinner with the Swedish King, Carolus X, Peder made the suggestion to the King that a University should be established in Lund. This idea excited the King and 8 years later, Lund University was opened. Peder was knighted by the King. During the time that the University was up and running, Peder Winstrup held the position as Bishop, a title he would have for 41 years. He died in 1679 and was buried in the Lund Cathedral. Armed with this information of his life, I now had the background story to go along with the man I would shortly be meeting. Mr. Karsten drove us out to the warehouse facility where the conservation and observations on the mummy were taking place. For me, it was an incredible experience walking into a room that held the best preserved remains of a remarkable man from the 17th century! Details like hair and clothing came to life. Pictures just can not capture how intricate the clothes were stitched or how fine the details were on his leather gloves. Such a remarkably preserved time capsule. Mr. Winstrup was buried with his internal organs intact which makes him of considerable interest to those who study medicine. Information about his health, from his bones to his teeth as well as the food that he ate and the illnesses he may have had make him of great value to the medical world. There are actually many branches of education that this mummy is of interest to. Take for instance, the textile world. His clothing style as well as the materials used to make his clothing are pieces that can be studied. Also entomologists and my field, horticulturists, can gain information from the herbs that were used in the pillows and coffin "bed" he was lying on. A bed made of hyssops, hops, juniper berries, lavender, and other herbs. These herbs also attracted insects and their residue can be studied. In essence, the man who played such a pivotal role in education, continues even today to educate. CT scans and study's are ongoing and should be completed soon along with published information on all of the findings. The fetus that was found at the foot of the coffin will also undergo examinations to determine whether or not it is of relation, which seems unlikely. The fetus was an extra discovery as was a small sack containing 5 teeth that was tucked into the coffin. The mysteries of these two items will hopefully be solved in time. The museum is going to create a display for a few items including the original coffin and clothes of Mr. Winstrup. As for the body of the Bishop, he will be laid to rest in the Lund Cathedral, after a grand ceremony, December 11th, 2015.    So what did I learn from the remains of a 336 year old Bishop? I learned how important history is, not just history but the preservation of history. Advances in science and medical fields are forwarded by what we learn from studying the past. I am thankful for dedicated historians, like Per Karsten, that preserve the past and I know that many people owe their lives to discoveries made from delving into history. When the original story about the mummy of Peder Winstrup hit the press, it wasn't met with a lot of kindness. Most of the critics were upset that the dead was being disturbed to be poked and prodded at. I can assure you that this can't be further from the truth. Only the most professional care and respect has been shown to Mr. Winstrup. If it wouldn't have been for the intervening by Mr. Karsten and others, the coffin (which was headed out of the church to be buried in the ground) and all of its contents would have been buried forever. We would never have the information that we now have about life in the 1600's. All in all, it was a trip that I will never forget. I am so grateful for the time that was spent by Mr. Karsten on my behalf, helping to educate me so that I might do the same for others. If you are ever in Sweden and get the chance to visit the Lund Historical Museum, please do so, it will be well worth your time, tell them I sent you! To find out more information about Peder Winstrup and the ongoing study, please visit the University Museums website: ,

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