Tests show Basel mummy was ancestor of British foreign minister

The body of an apparently wealthy woman was found decades ago during renovations on the Barfuesser Church in the Swiss city.

The woman's mummified body was found buried in front of the altar with no headstone.

Another clue: her body was riddled with mercury - a standard treatment for syphilis from the late 15th to the 19th Century.

DNA extracted from the mummy's big toe gave an nearly certain probability she was Anna Catharina Bischoff of Basel born 1719, and died 1787.

However, the mercury also preserved her remains allowing researchers to find out more about her life and her descendants.

Newly discovered archives in 2017 led historians to suspect the mummy was of a well-established Basel family, the Bischoffs. She is believed to be Johnson's great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, according to researchers who had been testing her body since 2015and announced their findings on Thursday.

An artist's impression of how Anna Catharina Bischoff may have looked. Her daughter married Christian Hubert Baron Pfeffel von Kriegelstein, an ancestor of the foreign minister, whose full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

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Five generations of von Pfeffels later, Marie Luise von Pfeffel marryied Stanley Fred Williams.

He previously told the BBC programme Who Do You Think You Are? that he was a "product of many countries" and described his von Pfeffel ancestors as "posh toffs". Johnson is yet to comment on the discovery.

But what of Anna Catharina herself?

She was born in Basel in 1719 and married a pastor in 1738 before giving birth to seven children - with only two surviving childhood.

Once Anna Catharina's husband passed away, she returned to her hometown and started an intense treatment to cure the disease, but to no avail.

It did not work: scientists believe Anna Catharina probably died from mercury poisoning. Rosemary Brobst-Rhyner is another of her descendants.

  • Sonia Alvarado