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Fear of Being Buried Alive

Hannah Beswick had a morbid fear of being buried alive, and this dread was not entirely irrational. Her young brother John almost had his coffin lid closed over him when a mourner attending John’s supposed death noticed the eyelids of the “dead body” flickering. On examination, the family physician confirmed that John was still alive. John regained consciousness a few days later, and lived for many more years.

Such incidents were not uncommon during the period in which Hannah Beswick lived—late 17th to mid-18th century. In fact, cases of premature burial have been documented well into the late 19th century. These are gruesome tales—urban legend or otherwise—about victims falling into the state of coma, and then waking up days … later to find themselves entombed.

The Scottish philosopher John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) was reported to have been buried alive after one of his occasional fits of coma was mistaken to be the loss of life. After his tomb was reopened, years later, his body was found outside his coffin. His hands were torn and bloody from the attempted escape.

On February 21, 1885, The New York Times gave a disturbing account of a man identified as “Jenkins,” whose body was found turned over onto its front inside the coffin, with much of his hair pulled out. There were also scratch marks visible on all sides of the coffin's interior.

Another story reported in The Times on January 18, 1886, tells about a Canadian girl named "Collins," whose body was described as being found with the knees tucked up under the body, and her burial shroud “torn into shreds.”

After the incident with her brother, Hannah was left with a pathological fear of the same thing befalling her. She asked her doctor to ensure that there was no risk of premature burial when her time came. She demanded her body be kept above ground and regularly examined for signs of life until it was certain she was dead.

Possible Preaching Angle:

This is a gruesome illustration but one which can realistically apply directly to the horrors of hell. The terrifying reality of the unsaved awakening after death in the inescapable horror of conscious eternity in hell cannot be ignored. We must be realistic in our view of both heaven and hell, and be compelled to preach the good news of God’s saving grace to a lost and dying world.

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