In Depth

Swiss church mummy ‘is Boris Johnson’s ancestor’

Corpse found in Basel church identified as politician’s seven-times-great grandmother

Boris Johnson has been accused of being a fossil and a dinosaur in his time, but he’s never drawn comparisons with a mummy. But now DNA testing has revealed that a mummified body found beneath a Swiss church is the Foreign Secretary’s seven-times-great-grandmother.

The corpse was uncovered during construction work at the Barfusser church in Basel in 1975, in an unusually well-preserved state due to the body’s high levels of mercury, once commonly used to treat syphilis.

The mystery of the “Lady of Barfusser church”, Switzerland’s best-known mummy, has puzzled local historians for more than 40 years, the Basler Zeitung reports.

Scientific analysis dated the coffin to the 16th century, when Basel was “a wealthy trading city” on the busy Rhine shipping route, says the BBC.

However, the identity of the woman within seemed lost to history until recently discovered archives revealed that the mummy had actually been unearthed before, in 1843.

Details in those records led researchers to suspects that the spot where the body was found was the final resting place of Anna Catharina Bischoff, a Basel gentlewoman who died in 1787.

The lead opened the door to the possibilities of DNA testing. Genetic material extracted from the big toe of the mummy was compared to DNA donated by modern members of the Bischoff family.

The DNA was a 99.8% match, leading historians to identify the body as that of Bischoff.

A clergyman’s wife, she “may have contracted syphilis while caring for patients with the sexually transmitted disease”, says the BBC - which would explain the presence of the mercury that preserved her body.

Her daughter, also named Anna, married into the Von Pfeffel family, whose heritage is evident in the Foreign Secretary’s full name: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

The connection makes Anna Bischoff the great-great-great-great-great-great-great- grandmother of the politician, through his father, Stanley Johnson. 

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