Back From the Dead: 8 Unbelievable Resurrections From History

Back From the Dead: 8 Unbelievable Resurrections From History

Stephanie Schoppert - August 28, 2017

Resurrections have often been little more than the stuff of legend. Throughout history, there have been numerous instances of people with near-death experiences, those who died for a few minutes only to be brought back to life. As miraculous as those stories may be, the following stories tell tales of people who were dead for hours or days before coming back to life. Some live only for a few moments and others go on to lead full lives, few have any explanation as to how it could have possibly happened.

Matthew Wall 1571

On October 2, 1571, the funeral bell tolled for a young farmer named Matthew Wall. He was a native of the village of Braughing in the English county of Hertfordshire and his death had been unexpected. His coffin was carried down Fleece Lane toward the village Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Matthew Wall was beloved in the town and it was distressing to see a young man with his whole life ahead of him be struck down so suddenly. His fiancé was in the procession, crying behind the coffin along with many other mourners from the town.

Autumn rains had made the ground slick with wet leaves. One of the pallbearers slipped on the leaves and fell to the ground, causing the coffin to fall as well. It was this large bump that caused Matthew Wall to wake up. The young farmer awoke, dazed, confused and trapped inside a wooden box. He started to panic and began pounding at the wooden prison with his fists. The mourners stood in shock until someone broke from their reverie and began working to remove the lid of the coffin.

Back From the Dead: 8 Unbelievable Resurrections From History
Matthew Wall’s Grave where a service continues to be held every year on the day of his “resurrection.”

When it was removed Matthew Wall sat up and appeared to be alive and well. He went back to his normal life and was never affected by the time he was believed to be dead. He married his fiancé the following year and lived many long happy years, finally dying in 1595. In his will, he made a financial provision that every year Fleece Lane be swept and then a funeral bell and a wedding peal be run. He also asked that his grave be covered in brambles so that it would not be disturbed by grazing sheep.

To this day in the village of Braughing, October 2nd is known as Old Man’s Day. The children sweep the lane, the bells are rung and a service is held at Matthew’s grave. While no one can ever be certain what it was that caused Matthew Wall to appear dead for so long but there are theories, and not all of them involve miracles. One theory is that Matthew Wall suffered from a form of epilepsy that put him into a coma until the fall of the coffin was enough to wake him.

Back From the Dead: 8 Unbelievable Resurrections From History
Woodcut depicting the hanging of Anne Greene.

Anne Greene 1650

Anne Greene was born in 1628 in Oxfordshire. As a young woman of 22, she was employed as a scullery maid in the household of Sir Thomas Reade. While working as a maid she was raped by the teenage grandson of her employer. A pregnancy resulted and varying accounts put her going into labor either four or six months into the pregnancy. Her child was stillborn. This might have been the end of her tragic story had she been born in another time.

However, the year was 1650 and Anne was subjected to the Infanticide Act of 1624. Under this act, if a mother was unwed and gave birth to a stillborn child, she was required to produce a witness. If the unwed mother could not provide a witness to prove the child was dead at birth, she was presumed guilty. Anne miscarried while working and buried the tiny stillborn baby near a cesspit. Anne tried to move on but the body was discovered and she was put on trial. With no evidence of her innocence, she was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

On December 14, she was hanged. During this period hangings, often when wrong and people were left to suffer slow painful deaths. Sometimes a person would survive a hanging and then be need to be hanged again. So, Anne requested that her friends beat her and pull on her body to try to speed up her demise. Finally, the young woman was deemed dead and was cut down. Her body was dispatched to a surgeon and researcher at Oxford for study. The following day the coffin was opened and the woman was found to be breathing.

The surgeon attempted to revive the woman with hot cordials and warm enemas. Within a few days, she fully recovered. During this time Thomas Reade, Anne Greene’s employer and the chief prosecutor had died. This left the surgeon with an opportunity to beseech the courts to spare the woman. He said that an examination proved the infant was too small to survive and even garnered a midwife to bear witness to the death. Therefore, Anne Greene was exonerated and went on to marry have three children before dying in childbirth in 1665. Her story became popularized as an act of God saving an innocent woman. The surgeon used the “resurrection” to bring attention and admiration to Oxford and their Experimentalist Club.

Back From the Dead: 8 Unbelievable Resurrections From History
Grave of Margorie McCall made by stonemason William Graham in 1860.

Margorie McCall 1705

The story of Margorie McCall is much more recent than some others on this list and yet it remains little more than legend with very little proof to the tale. It has become a bit of Lurgan folklore and a story that continues to be told despite the fact that researchers have been unable to recover any records of a woman bearing the name of Margorie McCall or of her burial. Whatever the truth may be, the story that has committed Margorie McCall into legend began in 1705.

Margorie McCall was a young Irish wife who had fallen victim to a fever and it claimed her life. The others in the village decided that it would be best to dispose of the body quickly before the deadly disease had a chance to spread. She was placed in a coffin and her worldly possessions removed from her body, all except for a very valuable ring. The disease had caused Margorie’s fingers to swell and therefore her husband was unable to remove the ring from her finger.

The period was well known for body snatchers who would dig up fresh graves to sell the corpses and perhaps find loot that had been buried with the bodies. In the dark of night on the day Margorie was buried the thieves made their move. They quickly dug up the soft dirt and found the body of the poor woman. They first attempted to remove the ring from her finger, but they failed just as her husband had. The men gave up trying to pry the ring off and decided it would be easier and faster to just cut off the finger.

It was the blade cutting into her finger that shocked the woman back to life. The grave robbers fled and Margorie McCall, dirty and bloody made her way back home. She knocked on the door and when her husband answered and saw her disheveled bloody figure, he fell down dead on the spot. Margorie returned home to her children and her dear husband was buried in the plot that she had vacated. Margorie McCall remarried and had several more children before finally being buried once again the same cemetery she had been freed from years before.

Back From the Dead: 8 Unbelievable Resurrections From History
The depiction of a woman sitting up after being declared dead. WordPress

Noelia Serna 2010

Noelia Serna was 45 years old and living in Cali, Columbia when her life took a terrible turn. She had been living for years with Multiple Sclerosis and that condition only compounded the heart attack that she suffered in February of 2010. She was admitted to Cali University where her condition continued to deteriorate. She survived 10 hours on life support before suffering another heart attack. After the second heart attack, doctors tried desperately to revive her but to no avail.

There was no detectable heart rate and no arterial tension. When the respiratory therapist removed the respirator, it was proven that the woman could not breathe on her own. Unable to provoke any response from Noelia Serna, the woman was declared dead. The doctors at the University signed her death certificate and she was eventually sent to the funeral home to be embalmed. Two hours after the woman was declared dead a funeral home worker began the embalming process.

Just as the needle to inject the embalming fluid was inserted into the skin, Noelia Serna moved her arm. The shocked worker then placed his hand by Noelia Serna’s nose and mouth and felt the woman breathing. The worker immediately stopped the procedure and brought the woman back to the hospital. She was alive but in critical condition as doctors once again worked to try and save her life. Expectations at the hospital were low because life signs were so weak but it was better condition than she had been in several hours before.

The case may seem like a strange one but it is not entirely uncommon. Neurosurgeon Juan Mendoza reported that in very rare situations a person’s heart rate and breathing can drop to imperceptible levels. This condition called the Lazarus Syndrome and it can lead doctors to declare a person dies while they are still very much alive. While there was never a follow-up as to whether or not Noelia Serna improved enough to leave the hospital or if she was once again declared dead but it is clear that she either died or came back from the dead or her second heart attack caused her to have Lazarus Syndrome.

Back From the Dead: 8 Unbelievable Resurrections From History
Depiction of Thomas Kempis.

Thomas à Kempis 1471

Thomas à Kempis was born in Kempen in the Rhineland in 1380. He attended school in Deventer in 1392 to 1399 and then went on to join Mount St. Agnes in 1406. He is best known for writing the Imitation of Christ which is one of the most popular and best-known Christian books ever written on devotion. It was considered by many prominent Christians to be a book that everyone should own. He spent his days, writing, teaching and creating copies. One of his copies of the Bible is currently being preserved at Darmstadt, Germany.

He died in 1471 and he was buried in Zwolle. It was not long after this that the Church looked into the life and works of Thomas à Kempis and decided that he should be made into a saint. The Catholic monk was known for his works and his ability to reach people with his teachings. His dedication to his copies and his devotion to God were all things that made him perfect for a saint. Even today his works and his life continue to be of great inspiration to those of the Christian faith.

So to begin the canonization process the remains of Thomas à Kempis were dug up. The man had been over 90 years old and at the time there had been very little doubt that he was dead. But that all changed when the lid of his coffin was removed. The inside of the coffin lid was covered in deep scratches and there were splinters embedded deep within the nails of the poor monk. It seemed that sometime after his burial, Thomas à Kempis had come back to life and had desperately tried to claw his way out of his grave.

This was unfortunate not only because Thomas à Kempis suffered before dying yet again deep within his own grave but it caused the Church to rethink their position on making him a saint. The scratches on the coffin were evidence that Thomas à Kempis was not willing to accept the fate that was set out for him. His inability to accept and face his death calmly showed that he was tied more to the physical world than he was to God and therefore he was denied canonization.

Back From the Dead: 8 Unbelievable Resurrections From History
Morgue cabinets like the one Sipho William Mdletshe was found in.

Sipho William Mdletshe 1993

Sipho William Mdletshe is a South African man who had everything going for him when he was 24 years old. He was engaged and happy. That was until a fateful day when he was driving with his wife. The pair were involved in a serious car accident. Paramedics who arrived at the accident believed that Sipho Mdletshe’s injuries were too severe and that there was no way that he could have survived.

There were no signs of life so instead of taking Sipho Mdletshe to the hospital he was taken directly to the morgue. His fiancé survived the crash and started mourning the loss of her fiancé. Sipho Mdletshe spent two days in a cold, locked cabinet in the morgue before he came back to life. As he gradually came to he realized that he was locked in a small, dark container. He thought for a moment that he might have even been buried.

Once he was fully aware of his situation he began making loud noises and banging inside the box. Luckily for him, morgue workers heard the commotion and were suitably freaked out. They figured out which cabinet the noise was coming from and pulled it open to reveal a perfectly awake and lucid Sipho Mdletshe. Despite whatever injuries he may have had from the accident he was so happy to alive that he knew the first thing he needed to do was visit his fiancé.

He made his way to her house and knocked on the door. When she opened it she screamed and refused to let him into the house believing that he was a zombie. Her fear is understandable considering Sipho Mdletshe had been declared dead for two days and had just emerged fresh from the morgue looking exactly as he did after the car accident. However, he was well-taken care by the hospital staff and made a recovery from his injuries. Convincing his fiancé that he was not a zombie was a much harder feat.

Back From the Dead: 8 Unbelievable Resurrections From History
Article telling of Duell’s resurrection.

William Duell 1740

William Duell was a young boy of 17 in 1740 but he was not the sort of character that most would want in their company. He was put on trial that year for raping and murdering a young woman by the name of Sarah Griffin in Acton, London. During the trial, William Duell was in a very poor state. The records suggest that he was suffering from delirium and fever throughout the process and never recovered. Despite this, the trial continued and the young boy was sentenced to death for his crime.

His sentence was to be carried out by hanging, as was the custom at the time. On November 24, 1740 he and four other men were taken to the noose to be hanged. As he hung from the gallows he lost consciousness and ceased all signs of life. The hangman declared him dead and he was brought down from the noose and prepared for transport. It was also the custom of the time for the dead bodies, of criminals to be sent to nearby medical colleges.

At the time dissection was viewed with prejudice both religiously and culturally so it was hard for medical students to come by bodies with which to learn. That was why arrangements were made that the bodies of dead criminals be sent to the school so that they may be dissected by students and professors. Due to this arrangement, medical knowledge was growing and improving at a rapid rate. But as fate would have it, William Duell was not at all ready to be dissected. It was several hours after his death that William Duell was being prepared for dissection by the students at the college. He was stripped and laid on the board and the students were washing the body when it was discovered that there was life in him.

Here there are varying accounts. In one the surgeon confers with others and decides that because the boy was convicted of a brutal murder, the dissection should continue. With that decision, the surgeon plunged the knife into William Duell’s chest. In the other account, the surgeon makes efforts to revive William Duell. The surgeon at the college then took several ounces of blood from William Duell and within hours the young man was sitting up and converse. Once his health returned he was sent back to prison where his sentence was reduced from hanging to transport. He was sent to North America and was never allowed to return.

Back From the Dead: 8 Unbelievable Resurrections From History
Rasputin recovering in the hospital after being stabbed.

Grigori Rasputin 1916

Griogori Rasputin had been portrayed as a sinister man of evil ever since his death in 1916. He was a Russian mystic who proclaimed himself a holy man and somehow managed to get into the favor of the Romanov family. Rasputin was believed to be a healer that was essential for keeping young Alexei alive. The young boy suffered from hemophilia and he was the only heir of Tsar Nicolas. Tsarina Alexandra believed that Rasputin was not only keeping her boy alive but making him strong enough to one day be the ruler.

But not everyone believed that Rasputin had the best interests of the Tsar in mind. When Tsar Nicolas left St. Petersburg in order to personally oversee armies during World War I, he left Russia in the hands of Alexandria and Rasputin. The pair became increasingly unpopular with the Tsar gone. In 1914 a peasant woman attempted to kill Grigori Rasputin by stabbing him in the stomach. Though he was seriously wounded he survived at least until more assassination attempts came in 1916.

A group of nobles led by Prince Yusupov decided to end the life of the healer. On December 30th, 1916, the prince invited Rasputin to his home sometime after midnight and ushered him into the basement. There Rasputin was offered cakes and wine that had been laced with cyanide but the deadly poison had no effect. Realizing the cyanide did not work, Yusupov simply shot Rasputin in the chest and then left him for dead. Later Yusupov returned (after making efforts to ensure he would not be implicated in the murder) only to be attacked by bloody Rasputin.

Yusupov managed to get away and outside as Rasputin followed him. Another of the nobles in the plot saved Yusupov’s life by shooting the mystic yet again. The conspirators then wrapped up the body and tossed it into a nearby river. The body was later recovered and buried by Alexandria but it was dug up after the February Revolution. A group of workers decided to burn the body (as the mystic had a fearsome reputation) and as the body burned Rasputin sat up in the flames, leaving many to believe he had risen again only to be burned alive. Another theory is simply that the tendons were not cut before burning and they simply contracted as they were heating, giving the appearance that Rasputin had once again cheated death.


Sources For Further Reading:

Alpha History – 1650: Girl Survives Being Hanged, Pulled, Stomped

The Independent – Legend Irish Woman Was Buried Alive Is ‘True’ – Says Historian

Encyclopedia Britannica – Thomas À Kempis

History Extra – Surviving the Gallows: The Georgian Hangings That Didn’t Go to Plan