Swiss church mummy 'is Boris Johnson's ancestor'

The identity of the woman, buried in 1787 under the Barfüsser church in Basel, has always been a mystery, the Basler Zeitung reported.

And new DNA evidence - taken from the mummy's big toe - has revealed she is the great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother of the UK Foreign Secretary.

Her coffin was unmarked, and there was no gravestone to identify her, although she was buried right in front of the altar, a symbol of great importance in her community. Her body had been preserved thanks to a high level of mercury, which was used to treat syphilis from the 15th century until the 19th century.

The woman's body was found during renovations of the Barfuesser Church in the northwestern city of Basel in 1979.

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It only became clear a year ago, based on newly discovered archives, that the mummy had been uncovered once before, in 1843.

Based on the amount of mercury in her remains she also appears to have been suffering from syphilis, which researchers believe she picked up while caring for others with the sexually transmitted disease.

This was compared, by scientists working independently from one another, with DNA taking from living descendants of the Bischoff family.

But the mercury also preserved her body - allowing today's researchers to find out exactly who she was, and who her descendants are. A 99.8 per cent match was found, and the relationship to the Johnson family is confirmed by records of births, deaths and marriages.

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He once told the BBC genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are? that he was "the product of many countries", describing his von Pfeffel ancestors as "posh toffs".

According to the BBC, Bischoff had seven children, of which two survived past childhood.

Her daughter married Christian Hubert Baron Pfeffel von Kriegelstein, an ancestor of Britain's foreign minister, whose full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

As for Bischoff, the researchers say that after her husband's death she returned to Basel, where she received the insidious treatment that ultimately led to her own death a few years later.

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Their daughter Yvonne married Osman Wilfred Johnson Kemal and their son, Stanley Johnson, went on to have British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

  • Ryan Wade