Weird Wesleyana and Macabre Methodistica

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John Wesley’s Death Mask

The only known surviving death mask made from John Wesley.  Death masks were a standard part of funeral ‘art’ in the 18th century.  At the very least it was a commemoration of the individual.  For the wealthy and nobility it was often used as a template for the funeral casket or mausoleum adornment.   In Wesley’s case we know that this death mask hung on a wall; there is a string attached to its back.   In the 1990s three copies of this mask were made and distributed to Duke University, Southern Methodist University and Rylands Library at the University of Manchester

The death mask was acquired by Drew University in the 1890s from George Osborn, a leading figure in British Methodism.  It was made approximately 6 hours after Wesley’s death – note the shape of the eyes.  One can also see that Wesley suffered from a stroke on his right side, and it has been suggested that the bump on his upper right lip was caused by crooked teeth – as a teenager today Wesley would be given braces!

George Whitfield’s Finger Bone

The thumb was donated to Drew University in the 1980s by a donor who claimed that the thumb had been in his family’s possession for years. It is the forepart of a thumb, from the knuckle to the fingernail which is still visible.   It is well known that George Whitefield, after dying at Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1770 and being buried in the church’s ministerial crypt, was visited by the curious and the devout for many years. In fact the crypt was visited regularly until the late 1890s.   As early as 1775 there are records of people opening his casket to take items, mostly clothing.  However, in the 1830s the entire right arm was removed and sent to England.  The gentleman in England kept the arm for about 20 years only to return it in  his old age.  The mayor of Newburyport was so pleased to have the bones returned that he built a special casket and had a parade through the town.   People continued to visit the tomb as late as the 1930s to view the remains.  In 1933 the coffin lid was replaced with slate which prohibited further viewing of the bones, although visitors still came to the crypt.

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