The Hungarian Sisters, Helen and Judith

The Hungarian Sisters, Helen and Judith, were born in Szony, Hungary on October 26, 1701. Helen, the stronger of the two, was born three hours before her sister. Their conjoined state was attributed to "the force of the mother's imagination during the period of gestation". The twins shared bony fusion from the second vertebra of the sacrum down through the coccyx. They shared an anus but had separate vaginas, from which they menstruated approximately a week apart from each other, beginning at the age of 16. So inflexible was the junction between the two that when one, usually stronger Helen, bent over to pick something up, the other was lifted off the ground. They could not walk sideways, as most pygopagus twins learn to do; rather, one was pulled backward as the other walked forward.


From the ages of two to nine years, the sisters were exhibited in Holland, Germany, England, France, Italy and Poland. They became talented singers and spoke Hungarian, High Dutch, German, French and some English. During their 7-year exhibition career, they were examined by all the top scientists of Europe and all aspects of their bodies and personalities described in great detail. They were the subject of many songs, poems, and philosophical musings, including a poem by Alexander Pope.


Judith, perhaps due to her delayed birth, was sicklier than her twin. At the age of six she suffered a stroke, leading to paralysis of the left side of her body. After this, she was "left ever weaker, less active, and apathetic." Helen, on the other hand, remained "active, sprightly and intelligent". The pair suffered measles and smallpox simultaneously, but experienced other illnesses at different times. Judith sometimes "convulsed" (seizured?) while Helen remained unaffected. They slept and became hungry and thirsty at separate times and shared no sensations.


At the age of nine, Helen and Judith were placed in the convent of the nuns of St. Ursula in Presburg, Hungary, where they would remain for the rest of their lives. In 1923, Judith fell gravely ill with "disease of the brain and lungs". Helen remained well at first, but soon developed a fever. On February 8, 1723, the twins died at almost the exact same time. They were laid to rest in the churchyard of the convent.


"Two sisters wonderful to behold, who have thus grown as one,
That naught their bodies can divide, no power beneath the sun.
The town of Szoenii gave them birth, hard by far-famed Komorn,
Which noble fort may all the arts of Turkish sultans scorn.
Lucina, woman's gentle friend, did Helen first receive;
And Judith, when three hours had passed, her mother's womb did leave.
One urine passage serves for both; one anus, so they tell;
The other parts their numbers keep, and serve their owners well.
Their parents poor did send them forth, the world to travel through,
That this great wonder of the age should not be hid from view.
The inner parts concealed do lie hid from our eyes, alas!
But all the body here you view erect in solid brass."


(From a poem engraved by a Hungarian physician on a statue of the sisters, translated from Latin by Fisher)


Text courtesy of Elizabeth Anderson - Phreeque Show


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