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Incorrupt Body Phenomena

There are many records of saints’ bodies being dug up years after burial, and being found incorrupt. This phenomenon is not confined to Catholic holy men or women, but there are more on record because of the custom of exhuming saints. A good example of the phenomenon is St. Catherine Laboure, who died in 1876 in Paris (France). Her body was buried in a triple coffin in a chapel crypt in the city and lay undisturbed for 56 years until it was exhumed on 21 March 1933 in preparation for her beatification. A surgeon who witnessed the exhumation reported:

“The body was carefully taken out of the coffin and placed on a long table. The face on account of its first contact with the air had slighty darkened since the day before [when the saint’s body was first revealed]; the clothing perfectly preserved was carefully removed…

In examining the body we noticed the perfect cuppleness of the arms and legs. These members have merely undergone a slight mummification. The skin throughout was intact and like parchment. The muscles were preserved; we could easily dissect them in a study of anatomy.

We cut the sternum on the median line. The bone showed a cartilaginous, elastic consistency and was easily cut by the surgeon’s knife. The thoracic cavity being opened it was easy for us to remove the heart. It was much shrunken but it had kept its shape. We could easily see within it the little fibrous cords, remains of the valves and muscles. We also took out a number of the ribs and the calvicle. We disjointed the arms - these two will be conserved apart. The two knee caps were taken out. The fingers and toe nails were in perfect condition. The hair remained attached to the scalp.

The eyes were in the orbits; the eyelids half closed; we were able to state the ball though fallen and shrunken existed in its entirety, and even the colour, bluish grey, of the iris still remained. The ears were intact.

To ensure the preservation of the body we injected a solution of formaldehyde, glycerine and carbolic acid.”

Other Christian religious figures whose incorrupt bodies have been exhumed this century include Blessed Maria Assunta Pallotta, the Cure of Ars (St. Jean Vianney), St. Bernadette Soubirous (the visionary of Lourdes), Blessed Paula Frassinetti, and St. Charbal Maklhouf; more details of these and many other pre-twentieth-century incorrupt Catholic saints can be found in “The Incorruptibles” by Joan Carroll Cruz.

A very recent example, post dating Ms Cruz’s book, is that of the discovery of Cardinal Schuster’s incorrupt body at Milan (Italy). He died in 1954, and was an admirer of Fascism and a friend of Mussolini, so his incorruption is somewhat embarrassing to the Church; there were allegations that it was not a genuine incorruption, but that corpse had been injected with preservative immediately after death.

Incorruption also occurs in other religious traditions, for example it was said that when the Chinese Communists opened the shrine which housed the mummy of Tsong Kha-pa (a Tibetan Buddhist leader who died in 1419) the body was undecayed and still warm.

Modern Mysteries of the World by Janet and Colin Bord

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