This Small Chapel Is Home to the World’s Oldest Modern Mummy

In life, Nikolay Ivanovich Pirogov was one of the most brilliant medical minds in human history, pioneering practices and procedures that are still used today. In death, he retained his legendary status as a medical genius, but he also gained attention for becoming the world’s oldest modern mummy.

Born in 1810, in Russia, Pirogov spent most of his life various kinds of surgical operations, developing his own technique of using plaster casts on broken bones, and he was the first to use ether anesthesia in a field hospital, saving thousands of lives in the process. He is widely regarded as one of Russia’s greatest physicians and a father of modern surgery. But, having been embalmed hours after his death, in 1881, Nikolay Ivanovich Pirogov is also known as the oldest modern mummy in the world, as well as one of the best preserved ones.

Just like the genius of Nikolay Pirogov, has attained almost legendary status. The surgeon’s body is believed to have been embalmed using a mixture and a technique that he himself devised, by one of his disciples, David Vyvodtsev. It is said that scientists have been struggling to replicate the embalming process for over a century, but they have yet to obtain the same results.

Although Pirogov’s body has been on display at a small family chapel in the Ukrainian village of Vinnitsa, at room temperature for 140 years now, it is remarkably well-preserved. The embalmed remains of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the world’s most famous modern mummy, is kept at a constant low temperature and undergoes maintenance at a special underground clinic twice a week, but Pirogov’s body allegedly needs no care at all, apart from the dusting of its glass case…

 

However, there are some sources that claim Nikolay Pirogov’s body has remained in such great condition thanks to regular embalming procedures every five, seven years. The one thing that all sources agree on is that Pirogov’s mummy is much better preserved than the one of Lenin.

The chapel housing the great surgeon’s remains is part of the Pirogov Museum, in Vinnitsa. Visitors come here to learn about the exploits of the legendary doctor and scientist, listen to stories and legends about his genius, and pray in the family chapel. In fact, there are those who say that people’s prayers and respect for the surgeon also play a part in keeping the world’s oldest modern mummy in such great condition.

 

Not much is known about the embalming substance and technique used on Pirogov. David Vyvodtsev is said to have used a mix of distilled water, ethyl alcohol, glycerin and, possibly, thymol, but the proportions used are unknown. Apparently, the embalming process only required a few incisions. Most of the internal organs, including the brain and heart, were not removed.

Experts believe that the low percentage of fat in Pirogov’s body positively impacted the result of the embalming as well. Regardless of the reason, the 140-year-old embalmed body of Nikolay Ivanovich Pirogov remains the world’s oldest and best preserved modern mummy.

   

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