WHEN ARP SCHNITGER, A REPUTED organ maker working in Germany in the late 17th century, was assigned a portion of a basement crypt of St Peter’s Cathedral in Bremen to work in, little did he expect to find the mummified remains of not one but eight residents of the German city.
The crypt is located beneath the nave of the cathedral and was originally used to store lead which was used for renovations to the roof and other structures, giving the chamber its name: Bleikeller. Either the lead or the dry air of the crypt or a combination of factors are thought to have caused the natural mummification of the corpses, some of which are thought to date back around 400 years.
Since the moment they were discovered, the mummies have been a source of curiosity for locals and visitors alike. An article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine from 1859 tells the story of a tourist seeking them out.
The mummies were placed in glass-topped coffins, and today they can be accessed through a separate entrance in the church complex. Each of them has its own story to tell: the body of a man who was fatally shot and has his mouth open as if shouting; a Swedish general and his assistant; an English countess, identified in some places as Lady Stanhope; a murdered student; a citizen of Bremen named Konrad Ehlers; and the last Swedish administrator of the cathedral, Georg Bernhard von Engelbrechten, and his wife.