In 1551, the Spanish Inquisition was in full swing. Mandated by the Spanish crown, those deemed heretical to Catholic orthodoxy (Jews, Muslims, and a plethora of other peoples) were subject to forced conversion, torture, and even death.
According to Transactions of the Obstetrical Society of London, one such victim was hanged to death under the hot Spanish sun, her body left twisting in the winds blowing in from North Africa. Four hours later, it was discovered she had been pregnant when two living children fell from her womb.
Fast forward nearly a century later, and a woman named Emme Toplace was interred quickly while her husband was away. When the bereaved visited her grave, he allegedly heard a child’s cry and ordered her disinterred. When her coffin was opened, it was discovered that she had given birth to a baby boy.
He lived and was named Fils de la Terre which means “Son of the Earth.” Emme’s parish register entry reads: “April ye 20, 1650, was buried Emme, the wife of Thomas Toplace, who was found delivered of a child after she had lain two hours in the grave.”
These bizarre meetings of life and death are called coffin births. While they sound like the stuff of Poe, they are a medical fact (the correct term is postmortem fetal expulsion).
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