Sunday, September 16, 2007


Through history, the bodies of a considerable number of deceased Catholic Saints and other blessed persons, have not undergone the normal processes of disintegration. Without any kind mummification or embalming methods, their corpses have thus remained incorrupt, a few even after 1500 years. The accounts of incorruptible bodies are a part of Christian history from the first century right through to the 21st.

Many of those, whose bodies have been found incorrupt, had died either by violence or diseases, conditions which normally would encourage the disintegration processes rather than preserve the bodies. Some had been buried in close proximity to other bodies that decomposed normally. Some had been consigned to the bare earth. Others survived burial in such damp conditions that their clothes rotted off their intact bodies. Some had been lying in lime, water or left in the open. But apparently unaffected by exterior influences, the bodies were found preserved as if they were still alive.

St. Veronica Giuliani (1660 - 1727)

From the beginning the phenomenon was seen as tangible proof of the sacredness and purity of a saint. The incorruptible bodies were therefore not buried but placed into sumptuous reliquaries and exposed above or behind the altar for everyone to see.

During the Middle Ages, churches that had one of these incorruptible saints became especially popular among pilgrims. It therefore became customary to exhume all candidates for beatification and canonization (the various steps on the way to sainthood).

Because of the Vatican’s quite strict canonization process, these exhumations have usually been witnessed with oaths and affidavits by ordinary working people as well as respectable doctors and medical specialists. The phenomenon is therefore among the most thoroughly documented of all alleged miracles.

The head of St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1381).

Disregarding the irrational elements and proven frauds, there is enough evidence of remarkable occurrences surrounding the incorruptibles to take the phenomenon seriously. It hasn’t been systematically examined by science and no rational explanations have yet been offered. The devout therefore continue believing that the bodies of these individuals have been miraculously preserved by God because of their sacredness and purity - as a reminder of their wonderful deeds.

Other supernatural characteristics usually related to incorruptibles are: an absence of rigor mortis; a persistent pleasant fragrance emanating from the body; in rare cases a bleeding long after death (from stigmata wounds or injuries suffered in martyrdom); in a few cases bodies have been warm long after death; even more rarely there has been some kind of ritualized movement of the limbs (for example, giving a blessing or even talking), which cannot be accounted for by mere contraction of muscles.

Secret or long-forgotten burial places of incorruptible saints have often been revealed to the discoverers by dreams or visions. Sometimes the discovery has been caused by unusual noises or a strange light emanating from the burial place. Long-dead bodies, or their remaining parts, have sometimes exuded a fragrant, clear oil known as “Oil of Saints” or “Manna Oil of Saints”. This liquid, as well as any relic related with the incorruptible saints, like blood or clothing, are usually attributed great powers of healing.

St. Catherine Laboure (1806-1876).

St. Bernadette

Born into extreme poverty on January 7, 1844 in Lourdes, France, Bernadette Soubirous was a sickly child who suffered from severe asthma and other deceases. As the uneducated daughter of devout Catholic parents, she was absorbed in the faith from her earliest days.

On February 11, 1858, when Bernadette, her younger sister and a friend were sent to gather firewood, a beautiful Lady dressed in blue and white appeared to her above a rose bush at a grotto called Massabielle. The Lady smiled at Bernadette and then made the sign of the cross with a rosary of ivory and gold. Bernadette fell on her knees, took out her own rosary and began to pray. After some time, the beautiful lady revealed herself as the Virgin Mary and soon became known as "Our Lady of Lourdes". She appeared to Bernadette and spoke with her seventeen times over a period of five months.

As proof of Mary’s divine origin, she allegedly instructed Bernadette to dig in the earth, whereupon a spring bubbled forth, its waters being reputed to possess miraculous healing properties. This spring still flows today and draws 4 to 6 million pilgrims to Lourdes each year with its promise of curative powers.

At the age of 22, Bernadette became a Sister of Charity and entered a convent in Nevers. There she spent the remaining thirteen years of her life, a large portion of this time ill in the infirmary. When accused by a fellow sister of being a lazy, she replied that her 'job' was "to be ill". Bernadette died on April 16, 1879, thirty-five years old.

In 1909, with the cause of her beatification under consideration, it was required to identify the remains of Bernadette. On September 22, 1909, Bishop Gauthey of Nevers, together with other Church representatives and officials, therefore entered the convent Chapel where her remains lay. The tomb was then opened and the body exhumed.

To the amazement of all present, Bernadette appeared exactly as she had been on the day of her death. The body was completely intact and no smell or other trace of corruption was seen on the little body in the coffin. Doctor Jourdan, the surgeon who was present for the exhumation, has left a written record in the Community archives describing what occurred:

"The coffin was opened in the presence of the Bishop of Nevers, the mayors of the town several canons and ourselves. We noticed no smell. The body was clothed in the habit of Bernadette's order. The habit was damp. Only the face, hands and forearms were uncovered. The head was tilted to the left. The face was dull white. The mouth was open slightly and it could be seen that the teeth were still in place. The hands, which were crossed upon the breast, were perfectly preserved, as were the nails. The hands still held a rusting Rosary. The veins on the forearms stood out."

Bernadette in 1864, 20 years old (in the middle wearing a scarf).

After the identification, the Sisters washed the body and dressed it in a fresh habit. It was then placed in a new coffin lined with white silk, and lowered back into the tomb.

In August 1913, Pope Pius X authorized the introduction of the Cause for Canonization and Bernadette could now be given the title 'Venerable'. This meant that her body had to be exhumed once again. This process was however interrupted by the First World War, and the body wasn’t re-exhumed until April 1919. The process was the same as before - as were the results. The body remained intact.

In November 1923, the Pope announced the authenticity of Bernadette's virtues and her beatification could finally proceed. Consequently, a third exhumation was needed. This time, relics were to be taken from the body and sent to Rome, Lourdes and to Houses of the Sisters of Nevers throughout the world.

On April 18, 1925, this third exhumation took place. Bernadette had then been dead more than forty six years. Yet, her body remained completely incorrupt. Dr. Talon, the surgeon who removed the relics, later wrote a report about this exhumation, for a medical journal, in which he described his amazement at the perfect preservation of the skeleton and the muscles in particular, as well as the liver which - he stated - should have deteriorated entirely very soon after death, and concluded that "this doesn't seem to be a natural phenomenon".

At the exhumation, it was noted that a small portion of the skin on the face had discolored slightly, due probably to the washing the body had received and its exposure to the organisms of the air. Consequently, it was decided to cover the face and hands with light wax masks. The firm of Pierre Imans in Paris was contacted, and they agreed to make the necessary masks.

On June 14, 1925, Pope Pius XI declared Bernadette 'Blessed', which meant that her relics could now be exposed for public veneration. A workshop in Lyons was subsequently commissioned to make a beautiful reliquary of silver, gilt and crystal for the body.

In July 1925, the shrine was ready. The body was clothed once more in a new habit and then transferred to the shrine. On the reliquary are depictions of the Apparitions at Lourdes, and lilies - the symbol of Bernadette's purity. Crowning the reliquary are the initials 'N.D. de L.' (Notre Dame de Lourdes), entwined around which there's a Rosary. In August 1925, the shrine was transferred to the main chapel of the convent where it can still be seen today.

The incorruptible body of St. Bernadette, 1844-1879, on display in a crystal coffin in the Church of St. Gildard in Nevers, France.

Blessed Margaret of Castello

In 1287, the Lord and Lady of Metola, a small village in Umbria, Italy, were expecting their first born child. The young couple, who had hoped for a strong, healthy son to be their heir, was totally devastated when they realized that the child was a blind, crippled dwarf. They couldn't bear looking at this abomination and gave the child to a trusted servant to care for secretly.
As the child grew her right leg remained shorter than the left, and she walked with a limp. Because of this and her poor care she soon developed a hunchback.

The servants named the poor child Margaret. They allowed her to walk about in the castle as long as she avoided the areas most frequented by her parents. Margaret soon learned her way around and would often hobble on her lame feet into the castle's chapel to pray. But one day a visitor met her there and nearly discovered her true identity.

When the parents learned about this incident they realized that it was too risky for the child to remain at the castle and decided to have a cell build for her in a nearby forest next to a church. A window opening was made into the chapel so the girl could hear Mass. And another small window was made on the outside so that food could be passed in. Once the cell was built, six year old Margaret was thrust into it and the doorway walled up.

When Margaret was sixteen years old, rumors came to Metola of a shrine in the nearby city of Castello, where many had been miraculously cured. A holy friar had died there, and at his tomb it was said the sick were healed and the lame could walk. Margaret’s parents decided to bring their crippled daughter to Castello in hope of a cure.

At the shrine Margaret was told to pray for a miracle, which she did from morning to night, but nothing happened. When it became apparent that the child would not be healed from her ailments, the parents gave up the hope of having the daughter of their ambitions and simply abandoned her in the streets of the town and left for home.

Some beggars found Margaret, took her in, and taught her to be one of their own. The crippled girl soon became known for her kindness, cheerfulness, and piety and some of the people of the town decided to take her into their homes. Margaret was quick to help with the chores, and especially skilled at caring for the children of whatever family she stayed with. She was said to have a positive influence on the families she lived among. And so Margaret traveled from home to home.

After some time Margaret joined the Third Order of Dominican nuns and devoted herself to the care of the sick and dying, limping wherever necessary to offer food, medicine, encouragement, and prayer. When she learned of the inhumane treatment of the area's prisoners, she made them her apostolate and every day she brought them food, clothing and medicine. Margaret continued her prayers, penances, and ministries until her death on April 13, 1320, at the age of thirty-three.

When she died, the people of Castello, believing her to be a saint, insisted that Margaret should be buried within the Church. According to tradition, a crippled girl was laid down beside the dead body after which the arm of the corpse allegedly reached over and touched the girl's stretcher, curing her. Two hundred other miracles were later attributed to Margaret's intercession.

In 1558 Margaret's remains had to be moved because her coffin was rotting away. At the exhumation, witnesses were amazed to find that like the coffin, the clothes had rotted, but Margaret's crippled body had not.

Today the body lies under the high altar in the Church of St. Domenico at Citta di Castello. The arms are still flexible, the eyelashes are present, and the nails are in place on the hands and feet. The coloring of the body has darkened slightly and the skin is dry and somewhat hardened, but by all standards the preservation can be considered a remarkable condition, having endured for over six hundred and fifty years.

St. Vincent de Paul

Vincent de Paul was born around 1580 in the village of Pouy in Gascony, southwest France, into to a poor peasant family. Being a highly intelligent youth, Vincent was allowed to spend four years with the Franciscan friars at Acqs getting an education. In 1596 he began theological studies at the University of Toulouse and was ordained priest in 1600 at the age of 20.

Returning by sea from a journey to Marseilles in 1605, he was captured by Turkish pirates who took him to Tunis, where he was sold as a slave. Two years later he managed to escape together with his master, a renegade whom he had converted to Christianity.
After returning to France, he served as parish priest near Paris where he founded several organizations to help the poor, nurse the sick, finding jobs for the unemployed, etc.

Vincent de Paul died in Paris in 1660. In 1737 he was canonized by Pope Clement XII.

His bones are encased in a wax figure, and rest in a reliquary in the chapel of the Vincentian Fathers in Paris. His still incorrupt heart is enclosed on the altar of his shrine in the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity in Paris.

Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney was born in 1786 as the son of a poor farmer in the village of Dardilly, France. During his childhood he worked as a shepherd and didn't get any education until he was 20 years old.

John had always felt a call to the priesthood. His eventual entry into the seminary, especially the study of Latin, however proved to be very difficult and he twice failed his examination before finally being ordained as a priest in 1815. Thought to be incompetent, John was placed under the direction of another priest in the neighboring village. After the death of this priest in 1818, John was transferred to the remote tiny village of Ars to be the parish priest.

St. John Vianney.
Here he lived a very ascetic life, ate the simplest food, wore old clothing and only slept two hours each night on a hard bed. The number of parishioners grew rapidly, as the word spread that this holy man could see into people's souls. People began coming to him from other parishes, then from all parts of France, and finally from other countries. Throughout France and the Christian world he soon became known as the "cure d'Ars" (the cure of Ars).

By the year 1855, Fr. Vianney was hearing as many as 20,000 confessions a year, spending 13 to 16 hours a day in the confessional. His direction was characterized by common sense, remarkable insight, and supernatural knowledge. As the news continued to spread, the sick were brought to Ars and many were miraculously cured.

During 30 years, Fr. Vianney claimed to experience frequent attacks of the devil. Voices, strange noises, threats, furniture being thrown about and many other demonic assaults took place almost every night. Besides all this external suffering, Fr. Vianney had physical ailments such as severe headaches, rheumatism, toothaches, fever and exhaustion.

The heroic self-sacrifice of Fr. Vianney eventually led to his death. At the age of 73 he began to have fainting spells. By the end of July he could no longer rise from his bed. Four days later on August 4, 1859, Fr. Vianney died.

Fr. Vianney was declared Venerable 13 years after his death. In 1904 when his body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt although the flesh had dried up and darkened. To this day the incorrupt body can be seen, encased in glass on a marble Altar, in Ars. In 1905 Fr. Vianney was declared Blessed. And finally in 1925 he became Saint John Marie Vianney.

The incorrupt body of St. John Vianney.


Francis Xavier was born in Navarre, Spain in 1506. After having completed a preliminary course of studies in 1525, Francis went to Paris and entered the university, where he studied and later taught philosophy. Francis wanted a career as a professor until he met St. Ignatius of Loyola, who was planning the foundation of the "Society of Jesus" (the Jesuits).

St. Ignatius soon won the confidence of the young man, who gave up the idea of an academic career and instead offered to help in the formation of the Society. In June 1537, Francis was ordained priest. And when the Jesuit order was finally approved, he was appointed by John III, King of Portugal, to evangelize the people of the East Indies.

St. Francis Xavier.
Francis left Rome on March 16, 1540. After a tedious and dangerous voyage, he landed at Goa, India on May 6, 1542. He devoted almost three years to the work of preaching to the people of Western India, converting many, and reaching in his journeys even the Island of Ceylon. In July, 1545, he went to Malacca, and then the Molucca Islands in Indonesia.

In August 1549, Francis landed at the city of Kagoshima in Japan. He devoted the first year to learning the Japanese language and translating the principal articles of faith. When he was able to express himself, Xavier began preaching.

Leaving Kagoshima about August, 1550, he penetrated to the centre of Japan, preached the Gospel in the cities of southern Japan and established several Christian communities. Towards the end of the same year he reached Meaco, then the principal city of Japan. After working about two a half years in Japan he finally returned to Goa, arriving there at the beginning of 1552.

During his stay in Japan Francis had heard much of the Chinese Empire and now began to plan an expedition there. In the autumn of 1552 he arrived on the ship Santa Cruz at the small Chinese island of Shangchuan, near the southern coast of China. While planning the best means for reaching the mainland, he was taken ill, and removed to the land, where a rude hut had been built to shelter him. In these wretched surroundings Francis Xavier died on December 2, 1552, at age of 46.

Francis was buried on the island in a wooden coffin. Two layers of quicklime were added in order to accelerate the process of corruption, which would facilitate the transference of his bones. Two and a half months later, the coffin was unearthed. To the surprise of all present, after the lime had been removed, they found the body totally incorrupt, as if it were still alive. And a sweet fragrance is said to have issued from the coffin. After replacing the lime, the coffin was sailed to Malacca. On arrival it was opened and the body was still found to have the freshness of a living person. The body was then buried this time without a coffin.

St. Francis' silver casket in Goa.
In December 1553, the body was once again unearthed, fount incorrupt and taken to Goa, where till today it remains intact, after more than 400 years. The body is enshrined in the Basilica of Bom Jésus in a silver casket which is lowered for public viewing during special exposition. In 1619, Francis Xavier was beatified by Paul V, and in 1622 he was finally canonized.

St. Francis is considered the greatest Christian missionary since the time of the Apostles. During his ten years in India, the East Indies, and Japan, Francis is said to have baptizing more than 40,000.

Francis Xavier had a reputation as a miracle-worker and there are numerous stories about the wonders he caused. Several times his prayers are said to have calmed storms at sea, preserved ships from pirate attacks, and steered them safely into port.

One story, reported by two eye witnesses, told how Francis, while sailing on the Santa Cruz from Malacca to China in 1552, converted sea water into fresh water.

In "The Miracles of Francis Xavier" by Peter Paul Rubens, Francis brings a number of dead persons back to life, including an Indian child who had drowned in a well, a miracle attested to by many as early as 1543. In the same painting a blind Japanese man is given sight, another mans ability to walk is restored, and a third is cured of demonic possession.

It is said that Francis did not experience bodily discomforts. Early biographers relate how he walked barefoot through Japanese mountains during the winter of 1552. Since all his thoughts were directed to God, he felt no pain.

St. Francis Xavier's body on display in Bom Jesus Basilica, Goa, India.

Catherine de Vigri was born on March 9, 1413 as the daughter of a diplomatic agent of the Marquis of Ferrara, Italy. At the age of eleven, she was appointed maid of honor to the daughter of the Marquis and shared her training and education.

When the daughter eventually married, she wanted Catherine to remain in her service. But, although Catherine herself had several suitors, she had already decided that a religious life was her calling. She therefore left the court and became a Franciscan Tertiary at the age of fourteen.

From the day she entered the convent, Sister Catherine threw herself wholeheartedly into the quest for perfection. Concluding that her convent was less strict in its life than she preferred, she accepted the appointment as abbess of a more austere convent of Poor Clare nuns in Bologna. She continued to head this community from 1456 until her death.

Early in her religious life, Sister Catherine began to experience visions of Christ and Satan and other supernatural graces. One Christmas Eve she had asked permission to spend the night of December 24-25 alone in the convent chapel. At the hour of midnight, the Virgin Mary appeared to Catherine with the swaddled Christ child in her arms. She handed the Infant to Catherine who pressed the child to her breast and kissed His cheek. When she tried to kiss His mouth, too, He disappeared, but her heart continued to experience a unique joy.

Like many other mystics, St. Catherine was also a person of talent and common sense. She was a skilled artist, and devoted much time to copying out in print her breviary, illustrating it with attractive pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. She also painted larger religious pictures, composed hymns, and wrote several devotional works.

After a short terminal illness Catherine died on March 9, 1463. She breathed her last so quietly that her sisters were unaware that she had died until a lovely fragrance allegedly rose from her body and they saw her middle-aged face restored to its teenage bloom.

Catherine body, which was first buried without a coffin and later enshrined in the monastery chapel, has never corrupted. Today it’s located in the Church of the Poor Clare convent in Bologna. The flesh has darkened, caused by the heat and soot of the many candles that have been burned for years around her exposed remains.

In response to a request she gave to one of her sisters, to whom she allegedly appeared in a vision in 1500, Catherine's body is not recumbent but seated. Soon after Catherine death, miraculous cures began to be granted to many who prayed for her intercession. She was canonized in 1712.

The body of St Catherine of Bologna.

Born in 1268 into a wealthy family in Montefalco, Italy, Clare was a lively, sincere and intelligent child. While still a teenager, she chose Christ as her one true love. Following her elder Sister Joan's example, Clare began the demanding practice of religious self-denial. And the two young women spent days in prolonged sessions of prayer and exceptional mortification of the flesh.

Clare's parents permitted her to live with Joan in a hermitage not far from their home. In June 1290, this hermitage was declared a monastery to be governed by the Rule of St. Augustine. The bishop of nearby Spoleto sent his representative to Montefalco in order to supervise the election of the monastery's abbess. The unanimous choice was Clare. And for sixteen years she served as mother, teacher, and spiritual director of her nuns.

Soon, Clare's reputation for holiness and wisdom attracted many visitors to the Monastery. They came in endless procession to see her, to hear her words, to be inspired and encouraged.

Clare was allegedly gifted with the spirit of prophecy as well as the grace of working miracles. She frequently conversed with Christ. In 1294, when she was only 26, she asked him, "Where are you going, Lord?" He answered, "I have been searching the whole world over for a strong place to plant my Cross, but I have found none." Later he told her, "Clare, I have finally found a place for my Cross. I shall place it in your heart."

The body of St. Clare

From that day on, Clare's whole body ached with acute pain and once she said to her sisters: “If you seek the cross of Christ, take my heart; there you will find the suffering Lord.” By July 1308, Clare's illness had become so severe that she was bedridden. On August 17, after confessing her sins to the monastery chaplain, she declared "There is little else for me to say, for today you shall all be with me with Christ, because I go to him."

After her death the heart was removed from Clare's body and a cross and the instruments of Christ’s passion were allegedly found, clearly imprinted on the cardiac tissue.

At the Church of the Holy Cross in Montefalco, Italy, the still incorrupt body of St. Clare is preserved together with her heart with the miraculous imprints.

The cross-shaped piece of flesh that was found in the heart of the Saint.