The English town of Bedford was once the home of a cult of women who thought the fate of the world lies in their hands, or more precisely in a sealed box full of prophecies. This box remains sealed until this day and no one even knows where exactly in Bedford it’s hidden.
At 8:23pm, the ritual began. Yellow smoke billowed into the darkness, accompanied by the sound of horns, drums and bells. People were releasing their yellow balloons into the sky. It was the 23rdof December 2016 and a journalist for BBC was in Bedford, England on the ground of Panacea Museum, where there used to be a chapel and where the members of the Panacea Society gathered.
In this small market town, located some 100 km from London, there used to be a cult of women who believed that the fate of the world is in their hands.
Mabel Barltrop was the group’s leader, a widowed former vicar’s wife, who in 1919 changed her name to Octavia and moved to Bedford, followed by her disciples. In Bedford she created a community, a cult, which peaked at around 70 members in the 1920ties and 30ties. The group was dominated by single, unmarried women, 40-60 years of age.
They also campaigned for the Church of England to fulfil the instructions of self-proclaimed prophet, Joanna Southcott who had left behind a sealed wooden box full of prophetical writings, stating that it should only be opened during a time of national crisis by all 24 Church of England bishops.
Presently, at the property there’s a museum, with rooms specially prepared by the Panacea society for the bishops, because at the time they had posted billboards all over London demanding the bishops to visit Bedford and open the box. The last member of the society died in 2012.
There’s a golden cradle in the museum which was meant for Joanna’s baby, which she allegedly was expecting in her 64th year. Joanna never actually gave birth and the bishops never came to Bedford, so the mysterious box remained unopened. It’s kept in a special, secret spot near the museum but inside the museum there’s a replica of the box for visitors to see.
According to museum manager Gemma Papineau the women from the Panacea Society were unable or unwilling to keep up with a period of intense social change. “They had the mentality of scared people trying to protect themselves,” she adds. “They built high walls around their campus, locked themselves inside it and made sure that everyone living with them believed exactly the same as them.”
The women were also very conservative but went so far as to consider the Holy Trinity to be a square, including Octavia as the daughter of God.