Archaeologists have solved the riddle of a premature baby whose body was placed in the coffin of Bishop Winstrup

Archaeologists have solved the riddle of a premature baby whose body was placed in the coffin of Bishop Winstrup
Archaeologists have solved the riddle of a premature baby whose body was placed in the coffin of Bishop Winstrup

When the famous Bishop of Lund Peder Winstrup died, he was buried in the family crypt at Lund Cathedral with his wife. After the restoration of the cathedral in the 19th century, the coffins were moved to a common storage facility, and in 2012, scientists decided to investigate the mummified remains. Suddenly, a small bag was found at the feet of Winstrup - the body of a premature baby wrapped in cloth. This discovery raised a reasonable question: how did the embryo end up in the bishop's coffin and did they have a kinship?

The body of Bishop Peder Winstrup

Peder Pedersen Winstrup, born April 1605 in Copenhagen, was a prominent Church figure and scholar in 17th century Denmark and Sweden. He died at the end of December 1679, and in January his coffin was placed in the crypt of Lund Cathedral. Winstrup's body was mummified, so it is surprisingly well preserved according to 19th and 20th century autopsies. In 2012, the remains were decided to be reburied in a cemetery outside the cathedral. At this point, the staff of the Lund University History Museum joined: after discussions with representatives of the Church and obtaining permission, they initiated a multidisciplinary research project to study the body of Winstrup and the contents of the coffin.

Since then, scientists have conducted several analyzes of the clergyman's remains (including computed tomography and x-rays), as well as his clothes and various objects, plant and insect remains found in the pillow, mattress and inside the coffin. It, by the way, consisted of two parts: the inner one was first laid out with a layer of herbaceous plants, and then sheathed with a silk lining, on which the body of the bishop was placed. The head rested on two pillows.


But one of the most impressive finds was the remains of a premature baby that lay under Winstrup's right tibia. This sparked a debate about what the embryo had to do with the bishop. In the Middle Ages, children were sometimes buried together with adults, who often had nothing to do with them. Scientists initially suggested that this happened in the case of Winstrup: a dead child, who was born as a result of a miscarriage, was hastily thrown into the bishop's coffin, slipping it under the silk lining and thereby inadvertently shifting the position of the deceased man's legs.

Some experts stated that the undertaker did it, and Winstrup and the child had nothing to do with each other. However, this hypothesis can be contrasted with the fact that the coffin was first placed in a vaulted tomb, to which the family of a minister of the Church had access. Therefore, scientists did not exclude that the embryo was planted to Winstrup later - and then, probably, they are nevertheless connected by family ties.

Archaeologists and paleogenetics from Stockholm and Lund Universities (Sweden) decided to solve the riddle, the results of their research are presented in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Scientists conducted genomic analysis of both bodies to find out a possible relationship.


“Anthropological examination of Winstrup's body and fetus is based on computed tomography, which showed that the bishop suffered from a number of health problems, including tooth decay, tuberculosis, arteriosclerosis, arthritis, Forestier disease and gallstones.The coffin contained a pouch of teeth, probably belonging to Winstrup himself, as they corresponded to the missing dental elements in the skull. Biological samples were taken from the bishop's right femur and the fetal left femur. To study the possible relationship between them, we used both the classical approach to the analysis of same-parent markers (mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome), and the special program lcMLkin,”the authors of the work said.

As it turned out, the bishop and the premature baby (male) had a common genetic background. They were not maternally related, since they were carriers of different mitochondrial lines (H3b7 and U5a1a1, respectively), but based on the analysis of the Y chromosome, paternal kinship cannot be ruled out, since both belonged to the R1b1a1a2a1a2 haplogroup, that is, they had a common ancestor. The child was a carrier of the R-DF17 line, a direct daughter of the bishop R-Z274. Second-degree kinship was confirmed by the results of lcMLkin. To get the final result, scientists had to study in detail the Winstrup genealogy.

A second-degree relative is someone who shares 25 percent of genes: uncles, nephews, grandparents, grandchildren, half-siblings or cousins. It is known that Peder Winstrup had a brother, Elias, who, however, died single in 1633. “The fact that the bishop's only known brother died young and had no children is important because it excludes relationships such as uncles, nephews, half-brothers and sisters, or cousins,” the archaeologists noted.

Therefore, the researchers decided to test the relationship of grandparents with grandchildren. In his first marriage with Anna Marie Ernstdatter Baden, the clergyman had five children, three of whom survived to adulthood: two daughters - Anna-Katarina and Anna-Maria - and a son, Peder. The first girl married and died a year before Winstrup's funeral, so she was excluded from the analysis. Anna Maria and Peder, in turn, remained in Lund. Soon after the death of her father, Anna-Maria got married and died a few years later. An autopsy in 1837 revealed that she had died in childbirth. The fruit in the coffin could have belonged to Anna Maria if her husband was a carrier of haplogroup Y, but this hypothesis cannot be verified.


“We focused on our son, Peder Pedersen Winstrup, who was born in 1647. Military questions worried Peder Jr. more than theological ones, and while in Holland, he studied fortification. Around 1679, he married and purchased the Sedertu estate from his late father-in-law. However, in 1680, due to the Great Reduction, the possessions granted to the nobility were returned to the crown. As a result, Peder also lost his father's estate in Lund. In a letter dated October 25, 1697, he laments poverty. The last written mention of Peder Winstrup is dated May 10, 1701, when he and his wife attended the baptism of Christian Gillenpalm. At the time, he was living on a charity donated by his son-in-law, Johan Gillenpalm. It is not known when he died, but, according to the genealogy of the Okershteins, he was buried in the cathedral, most likely in the family crypt,”the scientists explained.

With the death of Peder Winstrup, the male line of the noble family of Winstrup was cut short. This means that the premature boy, whose body was placed in the bishop's coffin, could only be his grandson. It is logical that the relatives had access to the crypt and, accordingly, the opportunity to put the child's body to one of the older and honorable family members.

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