Inspired by the recent news of the exhumation of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in Prague (for the second time) to see if he was poisoned, we spent a delightful day with our Twitter friends exploring the many tales of corpses hauled back out of the ground for a second look. We thought that it would be hard to find such stories, but oh, were we ever wrong. Here are my favorites from today’s stories:
The Cadaver Synod
This amazingly macabre bit of artwork was inspired by the true events of 897, when Pope Stephen VII, apparently completely off his rocker, ordered that the seven-month dead body of his predessesor Pope Formosus be exhumed and put on trial for crimes against the church. Known as the Cadaver Synod, the show trial featured the dead man’s corpse, dressed and propped up in a chair. Unsurprisingly, Formosus was found guilty, his body then mutilated, buried, exhumed again, and tossed in the Tiber. Unfortunately for Stephen, the corpse washed ashore and began performing miracles, eventually leading to Pope Stephen’s downfall and death by strangulation that same year. Formosus’ body was reburied at St. Peters. There’s a lesson in here somewhere.
Lincoln’s Restless Remains
After 17 exhumations since his death, in 1901 Abraham Lincoln’s body was exhumed for a final viewing. Inspired by the fortified tomb of railcar inventor Robert Pullman and the foiled 1876 attempt by thieves to steal and ransom Lincoln’s body, Robert Lincoln (the president’s only surviving son) made plans for a more fortified tomb beneath the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. 36 years after his death the body was interred for the last time, and the coffin opened to confirm that Lincoln was still inside. Those on hand reported that the dead president was discolored and missing his eyebrows, but otherwise intact. His body is still at rest 10 feet below the Tomb.
Lincoln’s death mask, the gun used by John Wilkes Booth and bits of Lincoln’s hair and skull can be visited at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington DC, and a replica of his casket is at the Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield, IL.
Painting by Pierre-Charles Comte, 1849, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon (source)
Ines de Castro, Dead Queen of Portugal
Pedro had been devastated by the murder of Ines de Castro, his beloved mistress and mother of three illegitimate children, by his father’s assassins. Having already exacted brutal revenge on the men responsible for her death, and revolted against his father, as soon as his father died he declared Ines his wife, and (allegedly) had her exhumed and honored by his court as queen.
The macabre love story has inspired plays and poems, paintings and several operas. She was re-interred in an extremely beautiful sarcophagis is at the Monastery of Alcobaca in Alcobaca, Portugal, decorated with imagry of the final judgement when she and Pedro will be reunited. After his death, Pedro was interred in a similar sarcophagus placed opposite her.
More disturbed dead from today’s explorations:
Join us each Monday on Twitter and follow our #morbidmonday hashtag, for new odd and macabre themes each week: Atlas Obscura on Twitter
Previously on the Atlas Blog: