An incorruptible body is a body that supposedly does not decay after death. Incorruptibility is a form of preservation that occurs naturally without the use of mummification. In the Catholic Church, it is believed that a body that is incorruptible is an indication of divine intervention, signifying the person’s holiness. The bodies of those who are incorruptible are normally saints.
Previously, incorruptibility used to count as a miracle in recognizing a saint. However, incorruptibility no longer counts as a miracle. Often, it is said that those who are incorruptible exude an odor of sanctity, which is a sweet, pleasant aroma rather than the smell of decayed flesh.
Since incorruptibility was previously a requisite for sainthood, if someone was a potential candidate, his or her body was exhumed to be inspected by physicians, Church officials and citizens. This also explains why most cases of incorruptibility have been found with saints.
Today, there are churches worldwide that display incorruptibles for the public to see. While some are showing slight signs of decay, other are still not showing signs of decay hundreds of years later.
If a body were incorruptible, it is seen as a sign that the individual is a saint. At the same time, if a body had undergone an embalming process, this did not count as incorruptibility. However, incorruptibility is not a pre-requisite for sainthood.
Incorruptibility and Science
The environment is not necessarily an indicator of whether a body is incorruptible or not. In fact, some incorruptible bodies have been found next to bodies that have decayed normally, indicating the environment did not affect the rate of decay. In other instances, the incorruptible’s clothes had decayed while the body did not. Whether or not the body was buried did not affect if a body was incorruptible.
Incorruptibles differ from mummies because mummies appear to be rotting and “dried up”. Incorruptibles, however, appear simply to be sleeping or recently deceased. Their skin appears soft and supple. Also, mummification can occur naturally or through artificial means where internal organs are removed and the body is bathed in oils, then wrapped in linen.
The scientific explanation for this phenomenon is unclear. Some arguments are that the corpse has been placed in environments that slow decay. Also, another scientific belief is that an area that is cool and dry slows decomposition. Scientists also suggested that bodies that had low muscle and body fat percentages were slower to decompose. However, St.Bernadette’s body testifies against this fact. Some incorruptibles still baffle scientists with how they managed to avoid decay. For example, some incorruptibles died violently or from disease, which should have accelerated decomposition, but did not.
Here are some of the most well preserved incorruptibles:
Saint Virginia Centurione Bracelli
Virginia (1587-1651) was the daughter of a nobleman. Early in her life, she felt the desire to follow religion. However, her family forced her into a marriage at age 15. By 20, she became a widow and took a vow of chastity, dedicating her life to helping others.Virginiawas beatified in 1985 and became a saint in 2003 by Pope John Paul II. Her body, which is on display inGenoa, Italy, remains remarkably well preserved almost four hundred years later.
Saint Bernadette Soubirous
Bernadette (1844-1879) was born to a miller in Lourdes, France. She spoke of apparitions of a “small young lady” who wanted a chapel to be built at a cave-grotto. This apparition would later be identified as the Immaculate Conception. She is now known as Our Lady of Lourdes. Bernadette was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1933. Her body is on display inLourdes,France. However, during her third exhumation in the 1920s, it was found her skin had been discolored. Thus, Pierre Imans’ firm created wax coverings for her face and hands.
MarÃa de Leon Bello y Delgado
Maria (1643-1731) was born inEl Sauzal, Spain, to a humble family. She is most well-known for her miracles and cures. Maria is currently in the process of beatification in order to become a saint. Her body is in the Convent of Santa Catalina of Sieta in San Cristobal de La Laguna, Spain. Maria’s incorrupt body is on public display every February 15, the anniversary of her death, and on the Sunday afterward.
Saint John Mary Vianney
John, or Jean, (1786-1859) was born in Dardilly, France, and was baptized on his birth. He is also known as the “Curé d’Ars”. Biographers record his supernatural knowledge and healing powers. He was declared a saint in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. Before burial, he was fitted with a wax mask. His body can be found in the Basilica in Ars, France.
Zita (c. 1212-1272) was born in Tuscany, where she became a servant to the Fatinellis. She was abused constantly by the family. However, she sought inner peace and showed love and respect for the family despite her poor treatment. She would often go out to help others and believed her role as a servant was given to her by God. By the time of her death, she had gained the respect of her employers due to her kind acts and piety. She was canonized in 1696. Her body was exhumed in 1580 and found to be incorrupt, but has been mummified. Her body is on display in the Basilica di San Frediano in Lucca.
Saint Silvan lived and died in the fourth century. He was a Christian martyr. On his neck is a large scar which is believed to be the cause of death. His body, which is remarkably well preserved considering the lack of technological advances in his era, can be found in the Church of St. Blaise in Dubrovnik,Croatia.
A Closing Note
Incorruptibility has been a subject of great mystery amongst scientists and others alike. Although scientists try to find a medical or natural explanation, many Catholics claim it is a sign of God’s doing. Are their bodies the sign of supernatural forces?