The Medieval Ages (also known as the Middle Ages) is a fascinating time in history, just because there’s so much going on. Everywhere you turn, there’s something totally interesting to learn about. From legendary kings and wars to pandemics at every turn, this time in history is definitely one of the most fascinating. While every time in history has its ups and downs when it comes to the events going down, there are always some events that stand out as totally out there, and the Middle Ages is no exception. Some mysteries of the time period are still nowhere close to being solved, even today.
Some of these mysteries are just plain weird, like the questions surrounding the Norse population’s disappearance from Greenland. However, some are actually really horrifying, like the many stories of Middle Ages serial killers that have survived the ages. Some of those serial killers were just plain killers who went out of their way to snuff the life out of people, but others took advantage of the superstitions of the day and used them as a cover for their killing. Needless to say, there’s a lot to talk about here. Here are 15 of the creepiest, most horrifying mysteries of the Middle Ages.
15 The Kid Crusaders
Adults weren’t the only ones who went on crusade. There were a lot of accounts of kids trying to go on a crusade to Jerusalem in the 13th century. The stories are often really different, but they’re all kind of out there. One young boy from France (or Germany) allegedly started preaching and leading up to 30,000 people on a march south into Italy. A merchant ship owner promised to take them to the Holy Land, but apparently sold all the kids as slaves to people in Muslim lands. This isn’t the only story out there, either. Historians take this with a grain of salt, but anything is possible.
14 The Children Of Woolpit
Two English reporters of the 12th century came across a story where the villagers of Woolpit discovered a boy and a girl who were siblings hanging around there. That wasn’t the newsworthy part, though. The newsworthy part was that the kids had green skin and spoke a language no one else knew. Their skin color eventually went back to a regular color, but the boy died a little while after being baptized. The girl eventually grew up to be an adult, and she told their frankly unbelievable story. Evidently, they were from St. Martin’s Land, where everything was green. They’d been tending their father’s cattle when they followed the animals into a cave, and when they came out, they were in our world. Experts have tried to figure out if the story was a folk tale or based on a true story, but haven’t really gotten anywhere.
13 The Disappearance Of Norse People From Greenland
The Norse people had lived in Greenland for centuries. However, after 400 years, they’d just vanished. The Norse population wasn’t all that big to begin with: it had only been about five thousand people. Regardless, the Norse people vanishing from Greenland is a weird mystery that historians still don’t have the answer to. The colony had been on the decline for awhile, but the very last visitor came to Greenland somewhere around 1420. No one knows what happened to the remaining residents. They could have died of a plague, or the Inuit could have killed them, or they could have simply left Greenland and come back to Europe. There’s simply no way to know.
12 Zu Shenatir
Zu Shenatir was a serial killer in modern-day Yemen in the fifth century AD, and is often incorrectly thought of as the first recorded serial killer in history. That’s not actually the case, though. He was a guy who had a limitless appetite for sex, and used that as the motivation for his killings. His city is actually the city that was linked to the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Basically, the world’s first murderer and one of the world’s first lust killers lived in the same city. While his life is interesting, his death is even more so: he was trying to kill a young man named Zerash, but Zerash survived by overpowering him and eventually stabbing Shenatir through his butthole. Talk about karma.
11 Werewolf Killers
We can talk about serial killer vampires from Eastern European countries for hours, but when it comes to the Middle Ages, the big thing was werewolves, especially in medieval France. They weren’t actually werewolves, though. They were feral serial killers who took joy in murdering rural peasants and city dwellers. One of those guys was a French peasant named Pierre Burgot, who was given an ointment that turned him into a wolf by Michel Verdun. Together with a third guy by the name of Philibert Montot, Bergot and Verdun became the Werewolves of Poligny, and they killed several kids together. When they were caught, they pointed fingers at each other.
10 The Dancing Plague
In 1518, a plague broke out in the town of Strasbourg. However, this was no ordinary plague. It all started when a woman started dancing uncontrollably in the streets. After a while, over four hundred people were dancing to the point where they were dropping dead of heart attacks and exhaustion. The authorities of the day tried curing them by letting them keep dancing, to the point where they paid for musicians to give them music to dance to. This happened a few other times over the course of three centuries. No one knows what caused it or why it happened more than once, and not much can help us figure it out, either.
9 The Werewolf Of Bedbug
The Werewolf of Bedbug was named Peter Stumpp, and he murdered 14 kids and two pregnant women over the course of 25 years during his run as a serial killer. He was a one armed farmer living in 15th century Germany who evidently drank the blood of livestock in the area and claimed to have eaten fetuses and his own son’s brain. To be fair, some of that needs to be taken with a grain of salt, because that confession was made after Stumpp was subject to torture. Regardless, he was still a serial killer who took advantage of the Sewer War between Catholics and Protestants so he could kill with impunity.
8 The Princes In The Tower
The princes in the tower were Edward V, King of England, and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. They were 12 and 9 in the year 1483, when Richard III took the English throne for himself. They were kept up in the tower of London, and had been there for a while before they’d totally disappeared in the summer of the same year. To this day, no one has any idea what happened to them. Sure, in 1674, some workmen found two small skeletons that probably belonged to them, and those skeletons now live in Westminster Abbey, because chances are, those skeletons are of the boys. That being said, no one knows how they died.
7 The Three Day Execution Of Peter Niers
Peter Niers was a bandit, black magician and serial killer, and while his crimes are interesting, his death is a lot more interesting in the grand scheme of things. He was executed over the course of three days in a particularly crazy way. He was flayed, then he had to have his flesh stripped off with hot oil, and then his body was broken on the wheel. After that, he was quartered alive. That is most definitely not how you’d want to go.
There was a reason behind that, though. Niers was a serial killer, and bloodthirsty even for that time, so he was given the most gruesome demise they could think of for him to pay for his gruesome life. This was a man who killed 544 people, and had even been convicted of eating some of them. While we should be skeptical about all of this because of the potential exaggeration that tends to come with Middle Ages historical documents, there’s still a lot of truth here.
6 The Black Banger
The Black Banger was a man named Niklaus Stuller, whose crimes were documented by a Bavarian hangman named Hans Schmidt, who was the guy who put Stuller to death. Stuller was responsible for the deaths of three pregnant women, along with their fetuses, making him yet another serial killer who targeted pregnant women. He might seem kind of tame considering his kill count, which is nowhere near that of some of these other guys, but when you look at him next to the others, you can see that the killers of the Middle Ages were a special kind of awful.
5 The Voynich Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript dates back to the 15th century, but no one knows how to read it. It’s in a language that’s entirely foreign to us. It was discovered back in 1912, but since then, scholars and experts have been at a loss as to what it means. The words are impossible to understand, and the illustrations on the manuscript are equally so. Recently, one scholar reported that he thought that he got a handful of words out of it, but other than that, there’s been no progress. This is one of those mysteries where people are just baffled.
4 La Quintrala
La Quintrala was actually named Catalina De Los Rios Y Lisperguer, and she was a Chilean aristocrat who killed 40 people while oppressing the indigenous people who worked for her. She murdered priests, lovers, and even her own dad. She managed to avoid the long arm of the law by using her unprecedented wealth. She eventually died under house arrest, after she was caught, tried and convicted, and had been waiting for her appeal. Her house had actually stood empty for a really long time after that, because they were afraid that her spirit was haunting it.
3 The mystery of Giulia Tofana
Giulia Tofana was a female serial killer who used poison to murder people, which is pretty common for female serial killers. You don’t really hear about female serial killers all that much, but she’s really interesting. She was such a notorious poisoner in that day, that Acqua Tofana, the strong poison, was named after her. She was the person that wives would call on when they wanted to kill their husbands. She came up with a poison with her daughter and some associates that was massively popular. We don’t know much about her, but we do know that over the course of her life, she killed six hundred people before being executed in 1659.
2 The Vikings in North America
Let’s revisit the Norse for a bit. They’d evidently settled on a small colony on L'anse aux Meadows on Newfoundland for awhile, according to archeological discoveries. They went further into North America, and they might have ended up in Minnesota by the 19th century. While some of the evidence supporting this was revealed to be a hoax, not all of it was. Scholars are still looking for Vinland, and while they’re not all that sure where it was, there is a good chance that it might have been in Minnesota.
1 The shroud of Turin
The shroud of Turin is shrouded in mystery, pardon the pun. A lot of theories have come out as to what the shroud actually is, but the big theory is that it shows an image of Jesus Christ as he was being crucified. It’s probably not that, considering that the cloth was made somewhere between 1260 and 1390 according to carbon dating, but it could be an art piece of something. No one knows who made the shroud, or even if it’s from the Middle Ages. A recent study put forth the idea that the shroud was made to be used in medieval church plays about Jesus’s resurrection. It could be anything, but the main theory is that it’s a big church play prop.
Sources: National Geographic; History.com.