In the annals of history, the medieval era is a treasure trove of mysteries that continue to captivate our imagination. From elusive figures and lost relics to hidden secrets and encrypted texts, these enigmas have stood the test of time, piquing the curiosity of historians, scholars, and enthusiasts alike. In this blog, we embark on a thrilling journey to explore six captivating medieval mysteries that we’d really like to solve.
What Was The Dancing Plague?
In 1518, hundreds of residents of a town in the Holy Roman Empire started dancing – and didn’t stop for three months. The so-called Dancing Plague seized Strasbourg through the summer months, with Frau Troffea being the first victim. She danced to exhaustion for days, bloodying and bruising her feet until eventually succumbing to her affliction.
The Dancing Plague lasted from July to early September, at which point it subsided. Historians still wonder what the root cause was, but Strasbourg wasn’t the only place it struck. Similar instances of dancing to death occurred in various parts of Germany, France, Holland, and Switzerland as early as 1374.
At the time, the disorder was thought to be caused by “hot blood,” the devil, or a curse from Saint Vitus, the patron saint of dancers and entertainment. Other theories involve poison, spider bites, or a communal possession of sorts, bred in an “environment of belief” that some supernatural force was at large.
What’s In The Voynich Manuscript?
The Voynich Manuscript (named for Wilfrid Voynich, the bookseller who “rediscover” it in 1912) was written during the 15th century. It includes undeciphered words and codes and an array of unusual images – all of which remain a mystery.
Attempts to read and explain the manuscript’s contents have been truly interdisciplinary in nature. Forensics specialists, historians, and cryptologists alike have tried to definitively explain the contents. Divided into six sections, the tome encompasses topics such as botanicals, astronomy, biology, cosmology, pharmaceuticals, and even recipes.
Over time, researchers have identified Latin letters and Arabic numerals, but figures that look like aliens and strange flora and fauna continue to puzzle observers. Scholars like Egyptologist Rainer Hannig insist the manuscript is written in a language based on Hebrew, while Nicholas Gibbs claimed in 2017 that the document was a mix of copied and plagiarized information from ancient and medieval health manuals.
Where Is Genghis Khan Buried?
Founder of the largest contiguous dynasty to have ever existed, Genghis Khan united Mongol tribes, led fierce conquests, and established functional meritocracy before his passing in 1227. While the exact cause of Genghis Khan’s demise is unknown, perhaps the result of an injury or disease, his final resting place may have been intentionally hidden.
By one account, he was reportedly buried right where he fell, but not with any temple or marker. Another theory holds that the soldiers comprising Genghis Khan’s funeral party killed everyone they saw along the way and, once the leader’s body was in the ground, obscured the site to maintain secrecy.
The lack of knowing where Genghis Khan was buried has only spawned enthusiastic efforts to find it. Researchers have tried looking at texts, using Satellite imagery, and traversing the landscape. In the words of one Mongolian resident named Uelun: “If they’d wanted us to find it, they would have left some sign.”
Where Did The Two Princes In The Tower Go?
The two sons of King Edward IV of England – Edward and Richard – were confined in the Tower of London by their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, after their father’s death in 1483. They were lodged there purportedly for their safety as the War of the Roses raged in England.
As the regent for the new King Edward V, the duke soon had both boys declared illegitimate and took the throne as his own, becoming Richard III. The exact details about what happened to Edward and Richard, ages 12 and 9, respectively, have never been clear. Once the princes were ensconced in Tower of London, neither was ever seen again. At the time, observers noted:
Withdrawn to the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows until at length they ceased to appear altogether. Already there is a suspicion that they have been done away with.
There’s widespread speculation that the newly crowned King Richard III had the princes murdered to secure his position. Assertions that the boys escaped led to rumors that they fled to continental Europe, perpetuated by men like Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be young Richard during the 1490s. When Sir Thomas More wrote about the event during the early 16th century, he described the deaths of the boys at the order of Richard III:
The innocent children lying in their beds, Miles Forest and John Dighton, about midnight, came into the chamber and suddenly lapped them up among the clothes, so bewrapped them and entangled them, keeping down by force the feather-bed and pillows hard unto their mouths, that within a while smothered and stifled, they gave up to God their innocent souls.
Despite claims that Richard III had, in fact, ordered the deaths of his nephews, there was no proof. Some historians insist he had no real motive, and for centuries, researchers and archaeologists have looked for physical evidence of the boys’ fate. Bones discovered at the Tower of London and St. George’s Chapel (the burial site of King Edward IV) have yielded inconclusive findings, and requests for DNA tests have been denied by the Crown.
What Was The Recipe For Greek Fire?
As an incendiary weapon of choice for fighters in the Byzantine Empire, Greek fire was first used during the 670s. The flammable liquid burned on water, making it inextinguishable and highly effective in naval combat.
While Greek fire wasn’t the first such weapon used in history, the exact composition of the Byzantine version remains unknown. Called “artificial fire,” it was sprayed on enemy ships, bringing with it flames and smoke alike. Greek fire may have been a mixture of sulfur and quicklime or saltpeter, but historians continue to debate its true make-up.
The Byzantines continued to use Greek fire, and they admittedly wanted to keep it a secret.
Where Did The Shroud Of Turin Come From?
Measuring more than 14 feet long and 3 1/2 feet wide, the Shroud of Turin is believed by many to bear the likeness of Jesus of Nazareth. The Shroud dates to at least the 14th century, and from the outset has been the subject of debate.
While some Christians think the garment is Jesus’s burial cloth, numerous scientific studies have challenged this assertion. Assessments of pollen and blood on the cloth provide no clear answer as to the Shroud’s provenance. One study dated it to some time between 1260 and 1390, while a 2013 infrared assessment placed its origin between 280 BCE and 220 CE – further complicating anything actually known about the icon.
Regardless of whether the Shroud of Turin was Jesus’s burial cloth, it was a known entity during the Middle Ages. First mentioned by a bishop in France during the 1350s, there is no indication as to where it came from. Once it was moved to Turin, Italy in 1578, it took on its current name. As the years pass, there seem to be more questions than answers, and as forensics scientist Victor Weedn admits: “We’re not dealing with things we really know about.”