Member of BannerPower Rotation System

A Timeline for Taphophiles

The Age of Colonization and Enlightenment
  • Samuel de Champlain, Governor of New France, orders autopsies to discover the cause of scurvy.
  • John Smith reports that starving Jamestown colonists (who have frittered away the growing season digging for gold) disinterr the body of a murdered Indian and eat it.
  • Reputed date of the killing of stableboy Roger Skelton at the hands of Lord Robert Hilton, who is angry because the boy fails to bring a horse quickly enough. Hilton throws the boy's body into a pond. The story becomes the basis of the legendary haunting of Hilton Castle, Northumbria.
  • The body of Queen Anne of Denmark lies in state for ten weeks while her husband raises the money for her funeral.
  • King Phillip III of Spain recovers from a fever after he has the relics of Isidore the Farmer brought to his sickroom. He takes this as a miracle and petitions for Isidore's canonization, which occurs in 1620.
  • The arm of deceased Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier is detached and sent to the Jesuit church in Rome.
  • The well-preserved body of Teresa of Avila is exhumed so that her heart, rib, right foot, and several pieces of flesh can be given away as relics.
  • The Pilgrims settle on the site of Pahuxet, which they call Plymouth, a former native American village of two thousand souls now turned ghost town by the ravages of European-borne diseases.
  • While engaging in "providential" looting of the countryside, a group of Massachusetts Pilgrims find "a place like a grave. We decided to dig it up. We found first a mat, and under that a fine bow....We also found bowls, trays, dishes, and things like that. We took several of the prettiest things to carry away with us, and covered the body up again."
  • A French abbess separates the bodies of Abelard and Heloise because she believes that the joint interment of a monk and a nun is indecent.
  • Poet John Donne dies. The relief on his Westminster Abbey tomb is copied from a picture for which he posed clothed but in shroud several years before his death.
  • Mogul Shah Jahan erects the Taj Mahal for his queen Mumtaz who died giving birth to their 14th child.
  • The Confranternity of Saint-Sacrement resolves that it shall not hand out the traditional funeral alms to the poor until they have received a lesson in the catechism.
  • Massachusetts Native Americans suffer so badly from the ravages of smallpox that the population is reduced from 30,000 to 300 warriors and they are unable to bury their dead. The unburied bodies lay above ground for years to come.
  • Oberammergau, Austria begins its tradition of celebrating it's being spared the Black Death by reenacting the Passion of Christ and defaming Jews every ten years.
  • Nikko, Japan's Toshogu Shrine is completed. The remains of the Tokugawa shogun Iyesu (d. 1616) are interred in this mausoleum.
  • Playwright Ben Jonson is interred standing up in Westminster Abbey to save his estate on the burial costs.
  • Sir William Waller's soldiers plunder the tombs of the Saxon kings at Winchester, except for that of William of Wykeham which is saved by a rebel officer.
  • Presbyterians declare praying at the graveside to be nothing more than "a superstition".
  • The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith condemns the incorporation of rites honoring Confucius and ancestors into Christian practice.
  • Famished Huron Indians break into the graves of their own kin and eat them.
  • James, Marquis of Montrose, is executed for treason. His heart is removed and sent to his relative, the exiled Duke of Montrose. It is stolen and is periodically seen until its final disappearance at the time of the French Revolution.
  • Anne Greene is hung for a felony. Her body is transported to be dissected by anatomists who discover she is still alive. She is allowed to recover.
  • Jeremy Taylor publishes The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying in which he dismisses deathbed visions as Satanic "phantasms".
  • The Spanish ambassador to England buys the body of priest martyr John Southworth from the executioner. The body, which has been hanged, drawn and quartered, is sewn together and sent to the English College, Douai, France, for its final rest.
  • The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith reverses itself on the "Chinese Rites Controversy". (See 1645)
  • 60,000 victims of the Black Plague are cremated in one week at Naples.
  • Shah Jaran is imprisoned and spends the last nine years of his life staring at the Taj Mahal.
  • Sir Thomas Browne publishes his Hydriutaphia or Non-Burial in which he advocates dissolving corpses in a mixture of "carbonic acid, water, and ammonia, rapidly, safely, and not unpleasantly."
  • The body of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell is exhumed from Westminister Abbey, tried for treason, hung, and decapitated.
  • Robert Boyle publishes his experiments using spirits of wine to embalm small animals.
  • English laws ban friends and children from accompanying the body to the grave or visiting the deceased house; large church funerals; graves less than six feet deep; and daylight burials. These measures are intended as preventatives against the Bubonic Plague.
  • English law requires the use of linen for burial shrouds, carefully reserving some 200,000 pounds of rag linen for use by the paper industry.
  • A flood washes away part of a bridge at Avignon, France, carrying the coffin of St. Benezet which has lain there for 500 years. The body is recovered and found to show few signs of putrefaction despite its age and recent immersion.
  • Leopold of Vienna extorts 4000 florins from the city's Jews after he threatens to destroy their cemetery.
  • The Manchu Emperor Shun-Chih has his body mummified and lacquered in gold.
  • A French royal declaration permits dissection and anatonomical demonstrations.
  • The tomb of the boy princes, alledgedly killed by Richard III, are discovered in the Tower of London.
  • The puritanical Scottish Parliament restricts the number of mourners at a funeral to one hundred, prohibits the funeral sermon, and restricts displays of grief such as banners and other honors.
  • The stone covering the tomb of John Milton in St. Giles, Cripplegate, disappears to make way for new construction.
  • A workmen removes a gold cross and a ring from the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey. He turns it over to King James II.
  • The Scottish Parliament attempts to boost the linen trade by banning the use of "rich materials" for shrouds.
  • Fisherman capture the fleeing King James II and steal the gold cross and ring of St. Edward the Confessor from him. These artifacts are never seen again.
  • Creditors seize the body of poet John Dryden to pay off his debt.
  • Richard Steele's comedy The Funeral or Grief-à-la-mode premieres at Drury Lane, London.
  • The Forty-Seven Ronin become heroes when they commit seppuku after avenging the death of the Lord of Ako, Asano Naganori, by killing the Shogun's kinsman, Kira Yoshinaka.
  • M. de Saint Alban of the Parliament of Toulouse discovers that his wife, who he'd interred, has survived her premature burial and married her one-time fiance who has returned from America.
  • The Scottish Parliament outlaws the use of anything but wool for shrouds and other burial clothing.
  • Pope Clement XI forbids Chinese Catholics from participating in rites honoring their ancestors.
  • Marie Jaguelin is tried, convicted and dragged upside-down on a sled for the crimes of suicide and infanticide. The body of her unborn child is buried in Chateau-Gothier's church of Saint John the Evangelist.
  • The plans of the Duc d'Orleans to have his heart preserved are thwarted when his Great Dane seizes the organ from the embalmers and eats a good quarter of it.
  • Peter Plojowitz is exhumed, staked and cremated after Serbs suspect he is a vampire.
  • The bodies of five Scottish Covenanters, buried at the foot of their gallows, are exhumed and moved to Greyfriar's Churchyard in Edinburgh. A gardener secretly buried their heads and hands in Lauriston Yard, an arm of Greyfriars, marking the spot with a white rose bush. All body parts are reunited by an enthusiastic crowd forty five years minus three days after the executions.
  • The Natchez Indians of Lousiana rebel when colonists demand that they cede their cemeteries. More than 200 colonists are killed and several hundred more are taken captive.
  • William Hogarth makes a tidy profit from sales of his sketches of condemned murderess Sarah Malcolm. Malcolm is hanged at Newgate Prison, securing Hogarth's fame and fortune.
  • Residents of Châtelet are alarmed when 16 bodies of young children are delivered to the morgue after neighbors complain about a physician's plan to make skeletons of them.
  • The Parliament of Paris orders doctors to investigate the potential of cemeteries for spreading disease.
  • A young Oxford student becomes the first burial at Rome's Protestant Cemetery.
  • Calvinist preacher Jonathan Edwards delivers his infamous Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God sermon, likening the souls of the departed to mere insects in the hand of God.
  • Abbé Porée advocates ending the practice of church burials and the removal of cemeteries to areas outside of towns.
  • Frederick, Prince of Wales, is first member of the British royal family to be embalmed by a professional undertaker.
  • The Scottish Parliament passes a law decreeing that executed criminals shall either be hung from a gibbet to rot or be publically dissected.
  • Scottish prostitutes Helen Torrence and Jean Waldie are hung for the murder of eight-year-old John Dallas. They sold his body to an anatomist for a paltry sum and a drink of whisky.
  • Victims of the Black Hole of Calcutta are thrown into a ditch and covered with earth.
  • Giovanni Mornagni emphasizes a life history approach to understanding disease. The veteran of hundreds of dissections, Mornagni stresses the importance of recording a thorough history of the patient and the progress of disease.
  • The Westminster Abbey wax effigy of Elizabeth I is recast.
  • Irish circus giant Charles O'Brien dies. Despite his pre-mortem instructions, his body is sold to anatomist John Hunter and displayed at the Royal College of Surgeons.
  • The Parliament of Paris orders the removal of cemeteries to locations outside the city.
  • Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II decrees that coffins shall only be made with flat tops.
  • A spectator recognizes the body being dissected by Dr. Charles Collignon at Cambridge as that of novelist Laurence Sterne. Collignon arranges for the body's burial, but is believed by many to have kept the skull.
  • Colonel Luttrell is asked to leave a London masquerade after his coffin outfit depresses the other partygoers.
  • Thomas Jefferson completes his plans for his tomb. He is not buried in it until his death in 1826.
  • Hugh Maret presents several cases which he claims prove the fatal results of exposure to mephitis (corpse gas).
  • King Edward I of England is exhumed to inventory his burial clothes and accoutrements.
  • The Parliament of Toulouse decrees the removal of its cemeteries after hearing evidence from doctors who assure the legislators that "the putrid vapors that emanate from cadavers fill the air with salts and corpuscles capable of impairing health and causing fatal disease."
  • The Archbishop of Toulouse forbids church interments.
  • Martin Van Butchell arranges for his wife's preservation in a glass case set in his living room so he can continue to collect a stipend granted him "as long as she remained above ground".
  • The invention of porcelain teeth eventually replaces the use of cadaver teeth in dental fixtures.
  • Louis XVI orders the relocation of all French cemeteries out of towns.
  • Air from the common graves of Les Innocents leaks into the basements of nearby houses, forcing local officials to attempt to contain the mephistis by means of counterwalls and the burning of fires.
  • Paris officials close the Cimetiere des SS. Innocents to further burials.
  • The Procurator General of Paris discovers that bodies deposited into the mandatory common grave are subjected to "everything that impiety and debauchery might inspire."
  • The bones of St. Amandus (d. 684) are secretly moved to Oberammergau, Austria from Rome to help draw pilgrims.
  • Paris's Cimetiere des SS. Innocents is plowed under and built over.
  • Burials in several Parisian church cemeteries are moved into the catacombs.
  • New York City residents riot against medical students after the robbing of a grave.
  • American poet Philip Freneau publishes The Indian Burying Ground.
  • Paris physician Joseph Ignace Guillotin persuades the National Assembly to adopt a beheading device he did not invent. "My victim," he tells them, "will feel nothing but a slight sense of refreshing coolness on the neck. We cannot make too much haste, gentlemen, to allow the nation to enjoy this advantage." The device proves less effective than promised and compassionate revolutionaries often resort to the more efficient firing squads, bonfires, or rivers.
  • Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II lifts his ban against dome-topped coffins as his subjects refuse to use flat-topped "nose-squeezers".
  • Souvenir vendors disinter a body which they believe to be that of John Milton in St. Giles, Cripplegate. They remove several of his teeth, samples of hair, and some ribs to sell to relic-hunters. Soon afterwards, a second group disinter the body to resolve whether the body truly belonged to John Milton and not to one Elizabeth Smith.
  • Medical students steal the body of murderer Anicet Martel and turn it over to some Freemasons for use in an initiation ceremony.
  • Revolutionary hero Henry Laurens becomes the first cremated American.
  • The heart of Mirabeau-Tonneau is placed in a lead box and attached to the flagstaff of a exile volunteer battalion.
  • The body of Cardinal Richelieu is removed from its tomb and decapitated by a revolutionary tribunal.
  • Charlotte Corday murders French revolutionary Jean Paul Marat in his bathtub. Jacques Louis David rushes to the scene to prepare the sketches for his painting The Death of Marat. Afterwards, Marat's heart is removed for special preservation.
  • The French National Assembly makes the consumption of more than one pound of meat per week a capital offense.
  • Samuel Whitbread atones for the 1790 robbing of John Milton's grave by setting up a bust of the poet in St. Giles, Cripplegate. The inscription also marks the final resting place of Milton's father.
  • The London Times urges that grave-robbing be made a capital offense. The call is ignored.
  • New York City establishes its potter's field at Madison Square. It later moves to Washington Square, then Bryant Square, then Third Avenue and 50th Street, then Ward's Island and finally Hart's Island.
  • A workman catches a fish using a piece of the body of King John, accidentally exposed during repairs to Worcester Cathedral.

Ancient Times and Early Christianity 50,000 BC to 999 AD
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance 1000 AD to 1599 AD
The Age of Colonization and Enlightenment 1600 AD to 1799 AD
The Romantic and Industrial Era 1800 AD to 1899 AD
Modern Times 1900 to the present day

Photos come from the Detroit Publishing Archive of the Library of Congress American Memory Collection. 1 - Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts; 2 - Chapel, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts; 3 - Mission Santa Barbara Cemetery, Santa Barbara, California