Friday, 29 June 2012

Visitation of God

I found myself  looking at coroners records this week.  It is curious to see the variety of different ways in which people manage to die, both deliberately or accidentally.

One entry I found concerned Philadelphia Sherwood who died in 1816.  She was baptised in Fletching on the 14th April 1788 the daughter of John and Susanna Slarks and on the 16th September 1816 at the age of 28 years she married James Sherwood in Brighton.  She died suddenly only a few months later and was buried at St Nicholas on the 15th December 1816.  The cause of death was determined to be ‘visitation of God’.

This is not an unusual cause of death and can be understood to mean that the deceased was not expected to die and there was no obvious explanation for their death.  Centuries ago medical knowledge was more limited and doctors did not always understand why someone had died - they were largely limited to external symptoms and had little knowledge of what had happened internally.  Life was also much more spiritual so it made sense when someone had died with no external symptoms that it was explained in religious terms.

It became less acceptable as a cause of death in the mid nineteenth century; the death certificate introduced in 1837 had a column for cause of death which was initially optional but doctors were soon encouraged to give an accurate cause of death and if the Registrar-General was not happy with the cause of death entered on the certificate he could ask the doctor to provide a more accurate diagnosis.  You are less likely to find it as a cause of death from 1900 onwards.

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