The mysterious moving coffins

Christ Church

In the 18th century, a rich family of planters, the Walronds, built a rock hewn tomb at Christ Church, Barbados. When it was all done, they sealed the entrance with a marble door, so massive that it resembled a fortress more than a tomb.

The body of family member Mrs. Thomasina Goddard was laid there in 1807.

However, one year later, the tomb was bought by another family of planters who owned slaves-the Chase family.

The Chase Vault today (Image source: Barbados)

They purchased the tomb so that they could bury two daughters (Ann Maria Chase in 1808 and Dorcas Chase in 1812).

But, the patriarch of the family, Thomas Chase died shortly afterwards in 1812. The tomb was again opened to receive his body. But what was discovered within would scare the whole of Barbados for years to come. For the two girls’ lead coffins had been stood on end upside down. It was quite shocking because one of the coffins weighed around 110 kilos. The scene seemed to suggest vandalism but there was not a single sign of a break-in.

Nevertheless, the family properly arranged the coffins and sealed the tomb. Since opening the marble door itself required about 6-8 people, the family was now convinced that no one could barge in without leaving traces or going unnoticed

They were proven wrong.

Because when the next funeral was about to take place four years later, the Chase coffins had again been wildly disarranged.

Needless to say, word of the mysterious tomb spread throughout the land and a huge crowd showed up for the next funeral. The sight of the four coffins in disarray left them in shock.

Eventually, the Governor of Barbados, Lord Combermere decided to take matters into his own hands. In 1819, he personally supervised and saw to it that the coffins were restacked in order and had seals put round the door slab. However he returned to the site again after reports of noises from the tomb.

The seals were intact. However the lead coffins were in their customary jumbled confusion. Only the little crumbling coffin of Mrs. Thomasina Goddard still lay in the corner although it had signs of heavy damage from another coffin bumping into it. At least it didn’t look like it was manhandled.

Image Source:

No explanation seemed to fit the case. Various theories were suggested. Most, if not all of them were disproved.

Were the Negro slaves responsible for moving the coffins in revenge? If so, they would have left traces in the sand. There was no trace of flooding. And it is very unlikely that earthquakes could have shaken one tomb without disturbing others in the surrounding area.

It is now believed by some that all this was just merely a story to gain publicity. There are however unanswered questions.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, suggested that supernatural forces were responsible. He believed that these forces were protesting the lead construction, which prevented the speedy decay of the bodies inside. It was also thought that these forces were strengthened by the fact that Thomas Chase and one of his daughters, Dorcas committed suicide, the latter due to suffering abuse from her father. Doyle even supported his views by pointing out that the coffins had only started moving after the body of Dorcas was placed in the tomb in 1812.

Whatever be the reason, the moving coffins caused so much buzz and concern in Barbados, that the tomb was emptied of all its occupants, including the body of Mrs. Thomasina Goddard.

Image Source: Atlas Obscura

What remains today is an empty, except for the litter, blown in by the wind through the gaps in the bars of the door.




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