Were these church doors covered in human skin?


For 800 years, St. Botolph’s Church in Hadstock, UK, had skin nailed to its front door believed to have belonged to a Viking who tried to plunder the church in the 11th century. The story is that he was caught, skinned alive, much of his flesh nailed to the door as a deterrent. It turns out these sorts of horrifying warnings have been seen in several other medieval churches in the area, including Westminster Abbey. The skin was removed from the gates long ago, but the samples were saved, prompting Cambridge University researcher Ruairidh Macleod and his colleagues to analyze it with a new mass spectrometry technique. It turns out that none of the four samples came from a human. Since ancient origins:

Macleod and his colleagues analyzed skin fragments from the four church doors using a non-destructive technique called “Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry” or MS-Zoom. Notably, the technique helped scientists choose a single Neanderthal bone from 2,300 bone fragments belonging to animals like mammoths, woolly rhinos, wolves and reindeer in Denisova Cave in Russia.

Technique reveals collagen peptide sequence in bone fragments, allowing scientists to identify which species a bone once belonged to[…]

While those at St Botolph and Westminster Abbey came from cattle, the skins at St Michael and All Angels Church belonged to a horse or donkey.

image: piece of skin from St. Botolph’s Church, Saffron Walden Museum

High picture:Robert Edwards/CC BY-SA 2.0


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