The girl from the Church of the Sacrament: a case of congenital syphilis in XVIII century Lisbon|
Sheila Mendonça de Souza Sonia Codinha & Eugénia Cunha
Syphilis is a sexually or congenitally transmitted infectious disease with an impact on the health of human populations that has undergone important cycles in different countries and periods of history. Its presence was first diagnosed in Europe in the late XIV century. In Portugal, although there are various written records of the infection in the last centuries, there are rare references to it in archeological findings (mummified bodies are also rare in Portugal). The current study describes a probable case of congenital syphilis in an 18-month-old girl buried in the Church of the Sacrament in Lisbon. Her body, dating to the XVIII century, was found mummified together with dozens of others, still not studied. Symmetrical periostitis of the long bones, osteitis, metaphyseal lesions, left knee articular, and epiphyseal destruction, and a rarefied lesion with a radiological appearance compatible with Wimberger's sign all point to a diagnosis of congenital syphilis. The diagnosis of this severe form of the infection, possibly related to the cause of death in this upper-class girl, calls attention to the disease's presence in XVIII century Lisbon and is consistent with the intense mobilization at the time in relation to the risks posed by so-called heredosyphilis. It is the first case of congenital syphilis in a child reported in archeological findings in Portugal, and can be correlated with other cases in skeletons of adults buried in cemeteries in Lisbon (in the XVI to XVIII centuries) and Coimbra (XIX century). Finally, this finding highlights the need to study the entire series of mummified bodies in the Church of the Sacrament in order to compare the paleopathological findings and existing historical documents on syphilis, so as to expand the paleoepidemiological knowledge of this infection in XVIII century Lisbon.
paleopathology - syphilis - mummification - bioarcheology - XVIII century