The steel cage is actually named a “Mortsafe”, (Mort in old French meaning body). The safes were created to protect graves from being disturbed, but not from Vampires or Zombies, but from body snatchers.
In 18th century Scotland there was a need for medical students to learn anatomy from cadavers, just like we still do today, however in the 18th century people were not as keen to donate their bodies to science, so usually the bodies of convicted criminals were used, donated by the Government.
Due to the demand for fresh bodies, a trade in the newly deceased sprung up, grave robbers became prevalent, digging up fresh corpses and selling them to local Medical Universities. The Government turned a blind eye to what was going on, they also quashed any publicity that grave robbing brought, this was done because, the few people who were caught were often publicly lynched, in one case a riot ensued after a grave robber had been caught.
The body snatching continued into the 19th century, and grew exponentially as more Medical universities opened, admitting more students, who in turn needed more bodies.
Eventually what was hidden came to light and a great amount of public outrage surfaced, laws were changed and body snatching, grave robbing and other similar crimes were outlawed through-out the United Kingdom.
The Mortsafe itself was thought to have been first used in approximately 1816. Heavy iron and stone was most often used as it was the hardest to break through. The norm was to place a very large iron or stone plate over the coffin which had rods with heads, which were kept in place with a second plate, which would then be locked. It would take two separate keys to remove the mortsafe.
The safe would be left over the body for about six weeks, then removed when the body had sufficiently decayed that it would be no use for the Medical school and therefore not dug up.
Mortsafes were not the only solution thought up to prevent body snatching, Vaults crypts and watch-houses were also built in an effort to curb the practice.
Today very few Mortsafes are left, most can be found in Scotland or portable, mortsafes in Museums.
To finish this blog, a small piece from the Columbia County Historical & Genealogical Society Newsletter:
"... the cages are mortsafes, structures intended to prevent the theft of a body for use by anatomy instructors, doctors or medical students who at the time had no legal source of cadavers for their work. This was a serious problem, now all but forgotten, throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries not just in this country but also in the British Isles. Other kinds of mortsafes were used as well and examples of some of them may be seen in [Columbia County, Pennsylvania.]
The iron cage mortsafe was prevalent in Scotland before 1830, but most were removed after passage of the Warburton Anatomy Act provided a legal source of anatomical material and ended the need for body snatching in Great Britain. The few remaining mortsafes in Scotland today are now billed as tourist attractions."
© 2012 Eidolon Paranormal
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