Joanna Southcott

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    Born in Devon in 1750, Joanna Southcott declared in 1792 that she was the woman spoken of in Revelation chapter 12, the woman driven into the wilderness. She began to prophesy, proclaiming the imminent return of Jesus, and sold sealed parchments bearing her sayings to the thousands of faithful she gathered around her.

    After some years of living like a princess in Exeter, she came to London in 1802, where she continued to make money and trouble in roughly equal measure. However, the city gradually grew bored of her, and it became clear that drastic measures would be needed.

    In February, 1814, Joanna confided in a friend that the previous October, she had felt "a powerful visitation working on my body" - and that she was now pregnant, at the age of 64.

    With the Messiah.

    In fact, she had dropsy, which duly killed her in December 1814. Her followers insist that the miraculous child, known as Shiloh, had been born the day before she expired, but in spirit form.

    Her main legacy was a mysterious box supposedly containing prophecies of particularly momentous import, which was to be opened only in time of dire national crisis and in the presence of 24 bishops of the Church of England. In 1927, ghost hunter Harry Price opened what he claimed was the Box in the presence of a couple of minor clergy, and discovered that it contained a few mildly pornographic novels. However, Southcottians maintain that this was not the Box, and given Price's reputation, they may have had a point.

    The rump of her following, the Panacea Society, persisted until fairly recently, and may still be going for all I know. They used to regularly place ads in the press asking for the requisite number of bishops to assemble to open the Box, to no avail. But I haven't seen one in quite some time.

    There's a picture of her actual gravestone here.

    (The opening lines of the first extract from Southcott's prophecies, here obscured by foliage, read:
    "While all through thy wondrous days,
    Heaven and Earth enraptur'd gaz'd...")

    inglian, Jam -, and 6 other people added this photo to their favorites.

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    1. Baywhale 108 months ago | reply

      I saw a TV programme recently about the Panacea Society, still operating, loads of followers clamouring for something or other that cures everything and can be sent by mail

    2. Simon Crubellier 108 months ago | reply

      Monty Python's Flying Circus, show 20:

      Commentator: Well here at Epsom we take up the running with fifty yards of this mile and a half race to go and it's the wash basin in the lead from WC Pedestal. Tucked in nicely there is the sofa going very well with Joanna Southcott's box making a good run from hat stand on the rails, and the standard lamp is failing fast but it's wash basin definitely taking up the running now being strongly pressed by ... At the post it's the wash basin from WC then sofa, hat stand, standard lamp and lastly Joanna Southcott's box.

      Cut to three bishops shouting from actual studio audience.

      Bishops: Open the box! Open the box! Open the box! Open the box! Open the box!

    3. musicmuse_ca 108 months ago | reply


      Thanks I needed that.

      Any chance we can bury our messianic loonies over there too?

    4. Ben__Jones 108 months ago | reply

      Cool. It's amazing what you can learn off the interweb.

      Is this a good enough excuse to paste the Derek and Clive version of the horse race I wonder? Maybe just a link will suffice.

    5. Simon Crubellier 108 months ago | reply

      Thanks again - ben patio, I don't think any excuse is ever needed for Derek & Clive, although I think you've made an excellent decision in linking rather than pasting...

    6. Polstar* [deleted] 108 months ago | reply

      lol ... what an interesting story - you're too interesting for your own good.

    7. seriykotik1970 108 months ago | reply

      Great story- I wonder if Dan Brown is researching this one- the story of the box sounds just up his street. Just don't try taking him to court for using your idea ! By the way are the Swedenborgians still active in London...?

    8. Simon Crubellier 108 months ago | reply

      Thanks Polstar & serikotik1970 - yes, the Swedenborg Society is still very much a going concern.

    9. [fakey] 108 months ago | reply

      The Panacea Society are based in Bedford, where I grew up. They still exist, and still claim to own the box. At the moment there's just two full members (an elderly Scottish man, and a slightly hockey-sticks woman). They own all of the properties in one of the most desirable and expensive streets in Bedford - most of the houses are rented out, but one is kept empty for Jesus Christ to live in when he returns to earth (Bedford, the society believes, is the original site of the garden of Eden). There was apparently some considerable debate within the society over whether or not to install power showers in this house (half the society say the Lord Jesu will probably be wanting a bit of a spruce up after arriving back on earth, the other half maintain that Christ keeps himself clean through his own aura and that therefore installing plumbing would be a frivolous waste of cash). If anyone writes a novel about this before I get round to it, then I'm suing.

    10. Simon Crubellier 108 months ago | reply

      Wow. Thanks very much for all that. I'm fascinated by people like them or the Aetherius Society.

    11. Baywhale 108 months ago | reply

      Yes, I too am fascinated and vexed by this plumbing dilemma. But presumably He will forgive the lack of sanitary provision if He does prove to require it? So I would hazard that further savings could also be made in the budget for household linen and detergent without fear of unpleasantness or damnation. I hope this helps.

    12. Jam - 107 months ago | reply

      Ummm... She's kind of a distant relative of mine. :o) But I'm not a wrong'un, so you can relax. I actually know very little about her, but I've always been meaning to find out. It's mad to think that she has a placque - I'm definitely gonna take a look at it.

      ...and I definitely haven't inherited any kind of box.

    13. Simon Crubellier 107 months ago | reply

      Wow. That's pretty impressive.

    14. [fakey] 107 months ago | reply

      Oh that reminds me - it turns out the Panacea Society now have their own website: (they had to modernise - slightly - after the Charity Commission nearly stripped them of their charitable status for never spending any of their money).
      However I was particularly disappointed to read in their FAQs, in answer to the question "How does one become Sealed?", that "The society no longer offers the process of Sealing".

    15. Barbara Rich 105 months ago | reply

      "the Panacea Society, still operating, loads of followers clamouring for something or other that cures everything and can be sent by mail"

      Don't they have inboxes overflowing with Viagra spam, like everyone else?

      Great pic and comments, I love this sort of esoterica.

    16. Medibot 104 months ago | reply

      What an interesting story.

    17. chris.goodlad 52 months ago | reply

      I believe sge had a huge following in Ashton underline, Lancs, around the time of the 1843 'Plug Plot Riots'. August 1843, the chartists called August,the 'Sacred Month'. Can anyone explain why?

    18. Ned_Ludd 31 months ago | reply

      Could you tell us the location where you took the picture?

    19. Simon Crubellier 31 months ago | reply

      The churchyard is just behind St John's Wood Church, near Lord's and the Regent's Park Mosque. The stone itself is on the western side of the churchyard, along Wellington Road (or at least it was when I took this...)

    20. xrichx 2 months ago | reply

      Hi Simon. Do you mind if I use this photo - with full credit of course - on my blog, I've been posting some articles about JS, and it would be good to have some photos of the gravestone(s) for an article about her funeral which will be published on 2nd January. Thanks for your consideration.

      I'd like to slightly alter the image by re-aligning the horizontals if that's OK?


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