Secrets of John Wesley’s Death Mask
A portrait on display at the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History depicts the death of John Wesley in 1791. The artist shows an awake and alert Wesley surrounded by family and supporters. However, modern scientific analysis holds new clues as to what happened in the last hours of the life of Methodism’s founder.
(Voice of Dale Patterson, General Commission on Archives and History) “This was made 5 hours after Wesley died and he died of a stroke and as a teenager he needed braces.”
A pathologist unlocked the secrets to this simple mask made when Methodism’s founder died on March 2, 1791, says church historian Dale Patterson.
Dale Patterson: “He said, ‘If you look around the face, you can see the characteristic droop of a stroke.’ He said, ‘That’s how we know he had a stroke. If you look at his eyelids, you will see that there are small dimples in the eyelids. And that happens about 5 hours after death.’ He said, ‘If you look at the upper right lip you’ll see a bump. That’s more than likely caused by a misaligned tooth. Today we would have put, when he was a teenager we would have put braces on him.’”
Death masks were common in the 18th century.
Dale Patterson: “Everyone from the king of England down to the local butcher, baker would have probably had a death mask made. And it would have been on display at the funeral. There were no photographs. Other than painting someone there was really no way to do a presentation of that person.”
This rare copy on display at the United Methodist archive agency holds unique clues to the story of John Wesley’s life and death.
The United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History and UMC.org have teamed up to share the life stories of early Methodists and interesting from the history of the denomination. Watch more videos here. Read about Wesley's tomb.
This video was first posted on March 1, 2018.