He is our least known celebrity – a man of power who took the initiative for Lund University and was literally ‘prepared for both’. The 17th century bishop Peder Winstrup is an exciting historical person – and corpse – that will now be studied in a major interdisciplinary project.
For many years, a beautiful coffin has stood in the crypt of the Cathedral. In it lies 17th century bishop Peder Winstrup. The coffin has now been moved to Gastelyckan, to a location more suited to scientific studies. This is the start of an extensive interdisciplinary project which it is hoped will provide a large amount of new knowledge, not only about Winstrup, but also about what life was like in 17th century Lund.
Peder Winstrup (1605–1679) was appointed Bishop of Lund in 1638, when Skåne was still Danish. He was a skilled navigator of the political landscape and managed to maintain his position even after Skåne became Swedish in 1658. Yet Peder Winstrup is a relatively unknown historical figure, at least in relation to his role in the development of Lund.
The project came about as a result of a series of unconnected events. The staff of the Cathedral wanted to move the coffin because they were planning an area for quiet prayer and services there. On the same day, curator Andreas Manhag was scanning old glass plates and saw a picture from a previous opening of Peder Winstrup’s coffin, which he showed to Per Karsten, director of the Historical Museum.
“We knew that the coffin had been opened in 1830, but it turned out that it had also been opened at some point in the 1920s, probably by Professor Rydbeck, who opened several bishops’ tombs. When I saw the picture, an idea for a project formed in a few seconds. It was too good to be true”, says Per Karsten, who is leading the research project with Andreas Manhag.
He soon realised that the body in the coffin was probably one of the best preserved mummies in the Nordic countries, which presented an entirely new opportunity to gain a picture of the life of a 17th century Lund resident. The ambition is to try and find out how the body has been so well preserved. It is believed that he is lying on a bed of wormwood and a cushion stuffed with hops.
Winstrup’s remains serve as an archive of knowledge about the living conditions and health of people in the 17th century. A thorough examination of his body will reveal further details of his state of health.
Traditionally, research has focused on studying the bodies of famous people, primarily royalty and nobility. Peder Winstrup did indeed hold a high position, but he nonetheless represents a different social class, which will be of interest from a medical perspective in particular. There are few or no preserved bodies in Scandinavia that represent the general population.
Osteologists Torbjörn Ahlström and Carolina Arcini will have an important part to play in the examination of the body. Among other things, a close examination of his clothes and a CT scan (computer tomography) of his body are planned.
“If he is dried, the organs may remain, and then samples could be taken from the liver and other organs, which would provide unique insight into 17th century life”, says Per Karsten.
Besides the purely physical examinations, there is a lot to study in relation to Peder Winstrup as a person. One interesting detail concerns his frequent use of the Winstrup family coat of arms. When he joined the nobility in 1658, it was decided that the colours should be blue and yellow, the Swedish colours, but in his most well-known portrait, which hangs in the University Library, the colours are for some reason red and white, the colours of the Danish flag.
“In Denmark, many see him as a traitor and a turncoat, but the perception of him should probably be diversified”, says Andreas Manhag.
Peder Winstrup had many strings to his bow, which will probably create opportunities for most of the faculties to get involved in the planned interdisciplinary project. He was a real Renaissance man, a ‘dogmatic prelate’, an architect and a scholar. The mid-17th century was a decisive and interesting era in the history of Lund and Denmark. The role of Peder Winstrup as a key figure for the development of the city, church and university cannot be emphasised strongly enough, according to Per Karsten, and is also of major national and international interest.
Peder Winstrup was also a printer and book collector with an exciting library. His vegetable garden was on the present site of the Historical Museum, which could lead to the involvement of botanists.
“Perhaps the Botanical Gardens could put on an exhibition of plants cultivated in the 17th century, or even plants used in embalming”, says Per Karsten.
Another example is Winstrup’s experiments on animal behaviour, a field of research that really developed in the 20th century. Among other things, he tried to find out whether it was true that the cuckoo placed its young in the nests of other birds.
“Despite the amount of time he must have spent on church work and political power games, he made time to think about science as well”, says Per Karsten.
The body will also be photographed in 3D and will thus be made into a sort of ‘virtual mummy’ for future research, before being buried in a grave in Norra kyrkogården.
The story of Peder Winstrup also fits perfectly into the celebrations for the University’s 350th anniversary. He is a natural feature and, as Per Karsten puts it, the ultimate reason why we have jobs at the University, the Cathedral and in the city today.
“Several histories of the University have been written, but the most interesting question remains unanswered – why was a university founded and what lay behind the decision?”
The body is currently at Gastelyckan, where it can be studied in the best possible conditions.
In order to carry out the project, funding is required, and a number of grants and donations have been received, but more is still needed.
“Our goal is an exhibition and a popular science book in time for the University’s 350th anniversary”, says Per Karsten.
The entire project is being carried out in collaboration with the Cathedral. The idea is for the exhibition to open at the Cathedral museum in conjunction with the University’s jubilee.
Text: Jonas Andersson
Photo: Gunnar Menander
Lived from 1605 to 1679.
Born in Copenhagen, he studied in Germany before becoming Professor of Philosophy at the University of Copenhagen and shortly afterwards chaplain to the King and Doctor of Theology.
In 1638, at the age of 33, he was appointed Bishop of Lund.
After Skåne became Swedish in 1658, he was admitted to the nobility.
Winstrup took the initiative to found a university in Lund and convinced Charles X Gustav to agree to the idea, although it only became a reality under Charles XI’s regency – on 19 December 1666. During this time, Winstrup was suspected of having an allegiance to Denmark and the Government discussed the possibility of removing him from office. He was therefore passed over in the appointment of the University’s first vice-chancellor, in contravention of the rules of precedence at the University.
During the Scanian War, the University’s activities were dormant, and by the time they started again in 1682, Winstrup was already dead.