It’s safe to say that everyone loves a good mystery once in a while. From pondering the meaning of life to uncovering details along with our favorite true crime podcasts, we can’t get enough of what we don’t know. Still, some of the most compelling mysteries of all are those from the Middle Ages!
As expected, many of these compelling mysteries seem as if they were designed to baffle us. Here are just 10 of the biggest unsolved mysteries from the Middle Ages that’ll turn anyone into a wannabe Sherlock Holmes!
1. Greek Fire: Created during the 7th century, Greek Fire was a water-resistant incendiary substance that was created to defend the Byzantine Empire from attack. Its formula has never been found, despite considerable efforts…
Scientists and historians alike have tried to figure out what allowed the stuff to burn on top of water, which made it especially effective in naval battles. Yet, even with modern technology, the exact makeup of the famous fire remains disputed.
2. Princes in the Tower: When Richard III took over the English throne in 1483, brothers Richard of Shrewsbury (the Duke of York) and Edward V (the King of England), who were nine and twelve, respectively, were sent to the Tower of London. Yet, by summertime, they’d gone missing…
Almost 200 years later, in 1674, a worker unearthed a strange wooden box with two child-sized human skeletons inside. Though the remains—which are kept in Westminster Abbey—have never been officially identified as the brothers, many people believe that is the case.
3. The Green Children of Woolpit: In the 12th century, the people of the village of Woolpit, located in Suffolk, England, were shocked when a mysterious young boy and girl—with green skin and speaking a bizarre language—suddenly appeared in town. After their skin color returned to a normal color, the boy passed away. What was the deal?
In short, no one knows. As the girl grew older, she learned English and told the villagers they came from a place where everything was green called “St. Martin’s Land.” While tending to their father’s cattle in a cave, they became lost and emerged in Woolpit. Experts have done their best to explain what happened, but to no avail.
4. Shroud of Turin: Many people have attempted to explain the origins of this cloth, which is said to bear the image of Jesus of Nazareth and supposedly was wrapped around him after he was crucified…
Several radiocarbon dating tests revealed it was made between 1260 and 1390, however. Rumors swirled that it was made for use in church plays about the Resurrection of Jesus during medieval times, but no one knows for sure.
5. The Norse in Greenland: Despite the Norse settling in Greenland for nearly half a century, their colony only ever grew to a few thousand people. By 1420, their populations were already in severe decline. Soon enough, everyone was gone.
Still, no one has any explanation as to what happened to them. Some researchers suggest they were attacked by Inuits, while others guessed a plague wiped them off the map.
6. The Vikings in North America: Because of modern archaeological digs, we know that small colonies of the Norsemen once lived in what’s now Canada’s L’anse aux Meadows and Baffin Island. But how far did they venture into the continent?
Some have suggested they reached as far as Minnesota. Unfortunately, much of the “evidence” for this has been proven false. Yet there’s always a chance we’ll find something that proves they made it farther than anyone ever thought!
7. The Vinland Map: In 1965, a group of scholars presented a 15th-century map depicting the parts of North America explored by the Norse. Its authenticity drew much criticism, however. Why, you ask? Well…
Chemical analysis of the map revealed the ink used to create it was from the 20th century. Nevertheless, some continued to debate its authenticity, and the Vinland Map can still be found on display at Yale University.
8. The dancing plague: During a sudden plague outbreak in Strasbourg, France, in 1518, people were alarmed when a woman started dancing uncontrollably on the street. It wasn’t long before hoards of people joined her—more than 400—with some of them dying from exhaustion or heart attacks…
To this day, no one knows what caused them to go berserk! What they do know is that local authorities encouraged the people to continue dancing, hoping it would help cure the mania that had spread. It, however, did not work.
9. The Voynich Manuscript: Experts have been baffled by this 15th-century illustrated manuscript written in an unknown language since its discovery in 1912. The more you learn about it, the stranger it becomes…
For example, no one has been able to decipher the meaning behind the bizarre astronomical signs and plant images in the book. Recently, one scholar used artificial intelligence to solve it, but his findings were still inconclusive.
10. Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah: As ruler of Egypt and parts of North Africa and Fatamid Caliph from 996 to 1021, Al-Hakim drew much criticism from his enemies. Still, his reign was successful. During his final years in power, he took up abstinence by way of asceticism…
In 1021, when he was 36, he took off on a journey to the hills outside Cairo—but never returned. All that was ever recovered were his bloodstained garments and his donkey. No one ever learned whether he was killed or left of his own volition.
There’s no saying whether any of these mysteries from the Middle Ages will ever be solved. Still, that’s what makes them so intriguing in the first place!
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