December 27, 2007

December 27 | Joanna Southcott

April, 1750 - December 27, 1814: Age 64

Joanna Southcott was the daughter of a farmer. She worked as a domestic servant and an upholsterer until she was in her early 40s, when she became aware that she was rather special: in fact, she was the woman spoken of in Revelation, the scary last chapter of the Bible. This woman — Joanna herself — was destined to bring forth a child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron, but not before a great red seven-headed dragon would appear to devour her child as soon as it was born. Fortunately the prophecy told that the dragon would be unsuccessful, the child would be taken up by God, and Joanna herself would flee into the wilderness.

She travelled to London where she began to lecture, publish pamphlets, and gather disciples. Over 20 years she gained about 20,000 followers. She predicted that the virgin birth of the future Ruler would take place in 1814, and thus married quietly in that year (so that He would be legitimate). She had herself examined by 21 doctors, 17 of whom pronounced her pregnant (she was 64 years old at the time). The birth still had not occurred by November, at which point Southcott went into a trance. She died on December 27. Her followers wrapped her body in flannel and kept it warm with hot water bottles, expecting that she would come to life again on the fourth day. This did not take place — indeed, she had begun to smell — and an autopsy revealed no disease or any pregnancy.

Strangely, her followers were not discouraged. To this day there are still "Southcottians", and one group holds her box of "sealed writings", to be opened only with 24 Anglican bishops in attendance. They have not been able to gather sufficient bishops to date, but continue to try to do so through periodic advertisements in national newspapers.

Southcott's box gets an allusion in a Monty Python skit: during the "Epsom Furniture Race" it comes in last, after a washbasin, a sofa, and several other pieces of furniture. Three bishops in the crowd yell, "Open the box! Open the box!" Click here to view.

Sources: Wikipedia, Religion and the Apocalypse in English Romantic Literature

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