From an article in the Paris Review:

Lena Herzog and the Lost Souls

“We do not allow anyone to see it, let alone photograph it,” the director of Vienna’s Federal Museum of Pathology at the Narrenturm told Lena Herzog when she first attempted to visit. Herzog was drawn to the collection of what eighteenth-century monks in her native Russia called “lost souls,” and what nineteenth-century doctors described as “incompatible with life”—unborn fetuses and newborn infants who, by virtue of nature’s mutations, were unable to survive but who were preserved by early modern collectors as objects of scientific inquiry and private wonder. These human and animal specimens were often displayed next to maps of the earth and of the stars—evidence of a desire to define boundaries and map the unknown.Herzog first encountered a similar collection as a student in St. Petersburg in 1988, and her reaction was swift and clear: “What I saw was extraordinary and subversive. It defied belief . . . The Russian Orthodox church declared the souls of these babies ‘lost’—they had no place in hell, or heaven, or even limbo. They were dead on arrival and had no place to go. Yet what was in the jars shimmered with a strange beauty.” For Herzog, that strange beauty is “something that shocks with a promise of some answer but gives none.”


  1. When the universe was created, the natural system accompanied the act. It is the creator's way to regulate His work. It is a mystery to me why this system allows for abnormalities and deformities in our species as well as in other animal species but we are part of the system as surely as dogs and chimps. The fetuses shown are members of the human species.

    The human animal by his dominion of the natural world of the earth intuits that he is special and apart from the other creatures of the earth. This intuition is the seed of faith which leads us to believe in a higher power we call God. All religious faiths believe that if it's followers obey the precepts of their faith they will share in the glory of their Creator.

    Christianity of all major faiths has revealed the most efficacious path to share in the Glory of God. The most important commandment revealed by the Messiah in order to perfect our species is as Heather King has been writing is non-violence. It is what will make us worthy to share in the glory of God! But the rub is–it is so deeply ingrained into the natural system.

    Our species must find a way to evolve past violence. The message of Christ must be accepted by the whole human race to redeem the entire race.

    At this point in our existence the issue is seriously in doubt.

  2. Anonymous says: Reply

    They do seem lost, these dear ones, adrift in their baths of formaldehyde – but surely not forever?

  3. Humans are not animals. We may be animal-like, but we are not animals. In fact, Revelation tells us that we are like God. But we are not God. We are simply human persons. If one had to put us into a genus/species category, I would suggest rational persons. Person is the genus, and rationality (meaning discursive reasoning) is the "specific difference" that separates us from other persons (God and angels).

    Calling ourselves animals, whether of the rational kind or of any other kind, does us great harm. I believe it is this thinking that leads us to treat each other as, well, animals, fit for scientific study and preservation.

    These souls are not "lost". God surely holds them in the palm of his hand. What seems to be "lost" on us is a deeper understanding of what it is to be a human person. We are still groping around for it among the animals. Yes, an evolution must begin. Like Adam in Genesis, we need to stop searching for our identity among the animals.

    Somehow, our Western "logic" has prevented us from seeing ourselves as God sees us. And how does this relate to violence? I think of the Norwegian killers comments when asked whether he was religious. He said he was not particularly, but was rather, first and foremost, a man of logic. As Chesterton noted, it is only cold hard logic that could lead to such callous human atrocities.

  4. No, surely not lost forever, just as we're not lost, all evidence sometimes seemingly to the contrary, either…The book has a beautiful intro by Luc Sante who points out that while to us certain things look like monstrosities and abnormalities, God (I'm paraphrasing) has an entirely different set of eyes…

    Thanks, too, Philip, for letting me know my reflections on non-violence fell on at least one pair of sympathetic ears.

  5. Anonymous says: Reply

    I am really haunted by these photos. I can not help but think of all the babies that "might have been" had birth control and abortion not become "choices" in our culture. Are these lost souls, too? Thanks for always helping to remove the scales from my eyes, Heather.
    God bless, Marijo

  6. As to your comment, Heather, you're so right! God sees them as beautiful innocents. Abnormalities and sickness are here because man has fallen. God is always calling us back to Him.

  7. Lost to us…not lost to God…