A British religious fanatic, born in Devon or Dorset in 1750. In 1792 she declared herself to be the woman from Revelation 12 who would give birth to the second Prince of Peace (the second coming of Christ). She travelled to London where she obtained a great following, and the first chapel dedicated to her was established in Southwark in 1802.

Her influence spread slowly but surely, and "Southcottian" chapels and churches started to become established right across England. In 1814, at the age of 64, Joanna Southcott announced that she was pregnant with the child who was to become the Messiah. Nine eminent doctors examined her and they all concluded that she was really pregnant, and that their best estimate of the child's birth date would be Christmas Day.

Naturally with this news her followers felt that their faith had been vindicated, and showed their devotion with gifts of money, jewellery and other valuables. On Christmas Day she failed to give birth, but lapsed into illness and she died two days later. An autopsy revealed no trace of a child.

However neither the death of their prophet nor her failure to deliver the promised messiah was sufficient to dissuade her followers. In fact if anything their resolve was strengthened and more people became Southcottian disciples, many of them claiming she would rise again. Sizeable numbers of her followers were still to be found at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Joanna Southcott left one final legacy to the world: a locked and sealed box tied with cords and kept at a holy location in southern England. This box is supposed to contain the secret to World Peace. Joanna is believed to have decreed that the box may only be opened in the presence of all 24 Bishops of the Church of England: there is no recorded instance in history of all the Bishops ever being in one place at the same time.

A brief addendum to iain's write-up:

Joanna Southcott made her announcement that she was pregnant with an immaculately conceived messiah named Shiloh when she was 64 years old. She died a few months later.

In accordance with her last wishes, her body was kept warm for four days and four nights before being dissected to ascertain the truth of her claim to pregnancy. The results of the dissection: no baby, and no established cause of death. The appearance of the pregnancy was determined to be the effect of extreme flatulence and "extensive omental fat".

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