This is the surprising story about the mummified head of former nun Maria Rosenthal.
🕰️ Even though more than 300 years have passed, the head is still almost intact.
Let’s travel back in time to Germany in 1742, at Hohenwart Abbey
Perhaps you, just as I, have seen the image floating around the internet of the mummified face of a nun. The caption reads, “Josephine Rosenthal’s head. The mummified head of the first nun ever recorded to be possessed.” If you’re anything like me, you searched the internet to learn more about this possessed nun, only to find story after story about Mary Rosenthal, or Sister Mary Crociffissa. As it would turn out, the mummified face belongs Mary Rosenthal, Josephine’s daughter.
Hohenwart Monastery was a nunnery of the Benedictine Order located at Hohenwart, in Bavaria, Germany. Due to its location, the monastery was entirely cut off from local villages, so when one of the nuns became pregnant, it was thought to be a holy event, and a good sign.
That nun was Sister Josephine Rosenthal, and in 1742, she became pregnant. She had been born in the nunnery, and had had no contact with men, outside of the Abbot, After an examination, it was declared that she was still a virgin, and in no way should be carrying a baby. Yet, she was.
Josephine carried the child for six months before her story reached the Abbot, and she was brought before the council of Benedict. There, she was once again examined, and again, determined to be a virgin. She had undergone an immaculate conception, a virgin birth.
Sister Josephine Rosenthal’s story reached the masses, despite all attempts to quell the story. Father Aaric finally agreed that the immaculate conception should be seen as a good sign. He had Josephine moved from the nunnery, to a chapel where she could be prayed for.
After only eight months, Josephine gave birth to a baby girl just before dying from blood loss. The baby, though underweight at birth, made a quick recovery and was christened Maria.
Although the nuns were excited and eagerly welcomed the baby, the council of Benedict was not so pleased. A female born of immaculate conception was attested and scorned. Some had seen Josephine as the vessel of the second coming of Christ. But a girl completely destroyed this idea.
Abbot Aaric was asked to tell his congregation that the baby had died. Though the lie saddened him, he ultimately agreed.
The nuns disagreed with the decision of the council of Benedict. They kept the child with them, raising her to be a nun. Though the people had been told of her death, many knew it was false. Mary attracted a loyal following of people, and even drew a formidable crowd. The locals found her inspiring, and her mere presence moved to transform other benedictine communities.
Of course, the higher echelons of the church denounced her. They declared worship of her as heresy – even though it was because of her that their churches were prospering.
During her life, Mary Rosenthal went on to write two treatises, of which only a fragment remains today. That treatise dealt with original sin, and the condemnation of the female. Though she pleaded with the church for revisions, nothing was ever done.
Around the time of her 33rd birthday, Mary became ill. Doctors could not determine what was wrong with her, though her followers believed that her death would signify the second death of the holy progeny. Just as Christ had died around this age, so would she.
She had inspired ideas of feminism and reclamation of respect. She had brought strength to the community, yet the church fought her every inch of the way. When she died, the people defied the church and began to idolize and worship her remains.
The front portion of Mary’s skull and face were preserved and stored in a wooden box. Also in the box was a vial of her blood, stored within a glass vessel. Within a gold leaf case, a lock of her hair and the fragment of her second treatise are stored.
Since the time of her death, her blood and skin were analyzed in 1905 and found to contain unique genetic traits. It wasn’t until the mid-1950’s that these traits were attributed to a rare lineage. As it would turn out, both Mary and her mother, Josephine, were hermaphrodites, and able to spontaneously impregnate and give birth to children. A condition that would ultimately kill them both.
It was agreed that Mary had been pregnant at the time of her death – though whether this was true, we may never know.
Though today, the church no longer stands, many things remain, including the box with Maria’s skull, vial of blood, lock of hair and treatise, and her own rosary.
May we recommend the story of Sister Mary Crociffissa next? The nun who wrote a letter from the devil?