|From Fear and Abhorrence to Pity and Compassion. Communal Reactions and Treatment of Suicides? Corpses in 17th Century Sweden|
|As elsewhere in Europe of the time, suicide was considered a horrid act that was both a serious sin and a punishable felony in the early modern Swedish Empire. These exceptional events stirred up crises in the relatively small and well-knit communities. Suspected suicides were investigated and sentenced in the secular lower courts where the judge and a jury of local peasants determined the cause of death and the mental state of the accused based on witness statements. Reactions to suicides can be traced to some extent in the filtered testimonies; moreover, the communal and emotional responses manifested themselves in practice in the varied treatment of the suicides? corpses.
Interestingly, though there were no decrees on moving, touching or storage of the cadaver, leaving the corpse untouched in its finding place was an established practice and custom during the 17th century.
The bodies were usually left hanging, floating or lying at the scenes even for long periods of time or when the decomposing corpse caused practical difficulties. The paper discusses the occurrence, manifestations and causes of this evasion and outright dread as well as the wide range of other emotions and reactions towards the suicides? corpses among the Swedish urban and rural communities. The practice of avoiding contact with the corpse resulted not only from the authorities? unwritten rules but also from strong popular beliefs and social pressure. Still, the material shows selectivity in how the suicide was dealt with; the background, social ties and status of the deceased had effect on the ways in which the community handled the case and treated the cadaver afterwards.