“The Stubborn Child”

From the Brothers Grimm, translated by Jack Zipes:

Once upon a time there was a stubborn child who never did what his mother told him to do. The dear Lord, therefore, did not look kindly upon him, and let him become sick. No doctor could cure him and in a short time he lay on his deathbed. After he was lowered into his grave and covered over with earth, one of his little arms suddenly emerged and reached up into the air. They pushed it back down and covered the earth with fresh earth, but that did not help. The little arm kept popping out. So the child’s mother had to go to the grave herself and smack the little arm with a switch. After she had done that, the arm withdrew, and then, for the first time, the child had peace beneath the earth.

Found this here.
A few weeks ago I heard this story on NPR about the St. Cuthbert Gospel, Europe’s oldest intact book, which the British Library recently paid $14 million to acquire.
The book is thought to date from seventh-century England and is in astonishingly good condition. This may be due to the fact that for four of its many centuries the book was not in anyone’s hands, but rather tucked away inside the coffin of Saint Cuthbert. From Wikipedia:

The book takes its name from Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, North East England, in whose tomb it was placed, probably a few years after his death in 687. Although it was long regarded as Cuthbert’s personal copy of the Gospel, to which there are early references, and so a relic of the saint, the book is now thought to date from shortly after Cuthbert’s death. It was probably a gift from Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Abbey, where it was written, intended to be placed in St Cuthbert’s coffin when his remains were placed behind the altar at Lindisfarne in 698. It presumably remained in the coffin through its long travels after 875, forced by Viking invasions, ending at Durham Cathedral. The book was found inside the coffin and removed in 1104 when the burial was once again moved within the cathedral. It was kept there with other relics, and important visitors were able to wear the book in a leather bag around their necks. 

Image: Miniature from Bede’s Prose Life of St Cuthbert (late 12th century), depicting the discovery of St. Cuthbert’s incorrupt corpse, via Wikipedia.

A few weeks ago I heard this story on NPR about the St. Cuthbert Gospel, Europe’s oldest intact book, which the British Library recently paid $14 million to acquire.

The book is thought to date from seventh-century England and is in astonishingly good condition. This may be due to the fact that for four of its many centuries the book was not in anyone’s hands, but rather tucked away inside the coffin of Saint Cuthbert. From Wikipedia:

The book takes its name from Saint Cuthbert of LindisfarneNorth East England, in whose tomb it was placed, probably a few years after his death in 687. Although it was long regarded as Cuthbert’s personal copy of the Gospel, to which there are early references, and so a relic of the saint, the book is now thought to date from shortly after Cuthbert’s death. It was probably a gift from Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Abbey, where it was written, intended to be placed in St Cuthbert’s coffin when his remains were placed behind the altar at Lindisfarne in 698. It presumably remained in the coffin through its long travels after 875, forced by Viking invasions, ending at Durham Cathedral. The book was found inside the coffin and removed in 1104 when the burial was once again moved within the cathedral. It was kept there with other relics, and important visitors were able to wear the book in a leather bag around their necks. 

Image: Miniature from Bede’s Prose Life of St Cuthbert (late 12th century), depicting the discovery of St. Cuthbert’s incorrupt corpse, via Wikipedia.

Illustration by H.L. Stephens for The Death and Burial of Poor Cock Robin, ca. 1865, on 50 Watts:

Who’ll dig his grave?I, said the Owl,with my pick and shovel,I’ll dig his grave.

Found via Daily Undertaker.

Illustration by H.L. Stephens for The Death and Burial of Poor Cock Robin, ca. 1865, on 50 Watts:

Who’ll dig his grave?
I, said the Owl,
with my pick and shovel,
I’ll dig his grave.

Found via Daily Undertaker.

Today’s Links

Thought I’d start doing link-roundup posts somewhere on the spectrum between occasional and frequent. This is the kind of stuff I already post on Facebook and Twitter, so if you like this sort of thing, consider liking and/or following me over theres.

Here you go:

  • Summer was the most dangerous time for Tudors (BBC News): Fun ways to die in Tudor England! Best sentence: “Dr Gunn’s previous study highlighted a number of strange ways that people died, in accidents involving archery, dancing bears and early handguns.”
  • Police plea on macabre book find (BBC News): A 300-year-old ledger bound in human skin, found in the middle of a road in Leeds. “In the 18th and 19th Centuries it was common to bind accounts of murder trials in the killer’s skin —known as anthropodermic bibliopegy.”
  • NPR did a story on what can happen to our Facebook and Flickr accounts when we go to the Big Cloud in the Sky.
  • If you aren’t already following Caitlin Doughty on Twitter or Facebook, you should be.
New post over on Morbid Anatomy excerpting Sir James George Frazer’s discussion of the hand of glory in The Golden Bough:

If a candle made of the fat of a malefactor who had also died on the gallows was lighted and placed in the Hand of Glory as in a candlestick, it rendered motionless all persons to whom it was presented; they could not stir a finger any more than if they were dead. Sometimes the dead man’s hand is itself the candle, or rather bunch of candles, all its withered fingers being set on fire; but should any member of the household be awake, one of the fingers will not kindle. Such nefarious lights can only be extinguished with milk. Often it is prescribed that the thief’s candle should be made of the finger of a new-born or, still better, unborn child; sometimes it is thought needful that the thief should have one such candle for every person in the house, for if he has one candle too little somebody in the house will wake and catch him. Once these tapers begin to burn, there is nothing but milk that will put them out. In the seventeenth century robbers used to murder pregnant women in order thus to extract candles from their wombs.

I’ve posted about the H.O.G. before, here and here.
Image source: Haunted America Tours, via Morbid Anatomy.

New post over on Morbid Anatomy excerpting Sir James George Frazer’s discussion of the hand of glory in The Golden Bough:

If a candle made of the fat of a malefactor who had also died on the gallows was lighted and placed in the Hand of Glory as in a candlestick, it rendered motionless all persons to whom it was presented; they could not stir a finger any more than if they were dead. Sometimes the dead man’s hand is itself the candle, or rather bunch of candles, all its withered fingers being set on fire; but should any member of the household be awake, one of the fingers will not kindle. Such nefarious lights can only be extinguished with milk. Often it is prescribed that the thief’s candle should be made of the finger of a new-born or, still better, unborn child; sometimes it is thought needful that the thief should have one such candle for every person in the house, for if he has one candle too little somebody in the house will wake and catch him. Once these tapers begin to burn, there is nothing but milk that will put them out. In the seventeenth century robbers used to murder pregnant women in order thus to extract candles from their wombs.

I’ve posted about the H.O.G. before, here and here.

Image source: Haunted America Tours, via Morbid Anatomy.

Dazed & Confused: Interview with Paul Koudounaris about his book "Empire of Death"

It took me long enough, but I finally ordered a copy of this book this morning. If you need me in the next 5 to 7 days business days, I’ll be near the mailbox.

From the interview:

There is something hypocritical about modern mortuary practices. We don’t want the dead around at all any more, so we ask the deceased to play out one last scene as a living person, dressed and made up as if they are still alive—whereas the natural state of a corpse is putrefaction. It strikes me as escapist and fictive.

Read the whole thing. Even better: Buy the book!


Photograph by Paul Koudounaris, from his book The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses.

Books of Human Flesh: The History behind Anthropodermic Bibliopegy

From The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice:

The process of binding books using human flesh is known as ‘anthropodermic bibliopegy’. One of the earlier examples dates from the 17th century and currently resides in Langdell Law Library at Harvard University. It is a Spanish law book published in 1605. The colour of the binding is a ‘subdued yellow, with sporadic brown and black splotches like an old banana’. [1] On the last page, there is an inscription which reads:

"The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my dear friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma [possibly an African tribe from modern-day Zimbabwe, see below illustration] on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King Mbesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bynd it. Requiescat in pace.”

Read it!

(Found via io9.)

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art (www.metmuseum.org):

Artist: Aleksey Ivanovich Saveliev (Russian, 1883–1923)
Title: Peasant Carts with Funeral Wreaths
Title: [Funeral of Leo Tolstoy, Astapovo, Russia]
Date: 1910
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Dimensions: Image: 8.9 x 13.3 cm (3 1/2 x 5 1/4 in.)
Credit Line: Gift of Pierre Apraxine, 2010
Accession Number: 2010.423.6
Classification: Photographs

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art (www.metmuseum.org):

Artist: Aleksey Ivanovich Saveliev (Russian, 1883–1923)

Title: Peasant Carts with Funeral Wreaths

Title: [Funeral of Leo Tolstoy, Astapovo, Russia]

Date: 1910

Medium: Gelatin silver print

Dimensions: Image: 8.9 x 13.3 cm (3 1/2 x 5 1/4 in.)

Credit Line: Gift of Pierre Apraxine, 2010

Accession Number: 2010.423.6

Classification: Photographs

Skeletons, mummies, bog bodies, exhumations. The dead, and what happens to them.

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