Incorruptibility in Christianity


In Catholic and Orthodox Christian cultures, if a body remains incorruptible after death, this is generally seen to be a sign that the individual is a saint although not every saint is expected to have an incorruptible corpse.


According to the Roman Catholic Church, a body is not deemed incorruptible if it has undergone an embalming process or other means of preserving the dead, or if it has become stiff, as do all normal corpses, even when the best preservation techniques are used. Incorruptible saints remain completely flexible, as if they were only sleeping. (See the book, The Incorruptibles, referenced below.) As such, although the body of Pope John XXIII remains in a remarkably intact state, after its discovery, Church officials quickly pointed out that the pope's body had been embalmed and that there was a lack of oxygen in his sealed triple coffin, lest the public mistakenly fall under the impression that John's body had been incorrupt due to supernatural reasons.


In the Orthodox Church, incorruptibility continues to be an important element in the process of canonization (q.v.). An important distinction is made between natural mummification and supernatural incorruptibility. In The Brothers Karamazov, a novel by Dostoyevsky, the body of the newly-deceased Starets (holy monk) Zossima began to decay noticeably even during his funeral wake, which caused a great scandal in his monastery and among the townsfolk, who fully expected that he would be incorrupt.


Incorruptibility in other cultures


Although incorruptibility is seen as a primarily Christian phenomenon, other cultures have examples of revered, incorrupt dead. The followers of Paramahansa Yogananda maintain that his body was incorruptible. While the death certificate clearly shows the body was embalmed, his followers claim that such a corpse would normally show signs of mold developing from the pores if a pore-blocking cream is not used, and that no such cream was used in this case.


In Islam, many scholars hold the belief that the bodies of Prophets are incorruptible, because of the statement of Muhammad:[cite this quote]

“ Narrated by Sayyidina Abu Darda:


The Holy Prophet said : "Increase your recitation of salawat on me on Friday because on this day Angels present themselves to me. There is no servant of Allah who recites salawat upon me, except that his voice reaches me from wherever he is". The Companions asked, "even after your departure?" He replied, "Yes after my departure too, because Allah has made it forbidden upon the earth to consume the bodies of the Prophets."


The body of Hindi guru Paramahansa Yogananda was also reported to be incorruptible. As reported in Time Magazine on August 4, 1952, Harry T. Rowe, Los Angeles Mortuary Director of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California where Yogananda's body is interred, stated in a notarized letter:

“ "The absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramahansa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience.... No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death.... No indication of mold was visible on his skin, and no visible drying up took place in the bodily tissues. This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one.... No odor of decay emanated from his body at any time...." ”


Another possible candidate is that of a Tibetan monk (reported by AFP, quoting the Hindustan Times, 2004[citation needed]). This body has been revered by the local villagers since its discovery in 1975. However, this case may be more appropriately considered a case of natural mummification.


Within Buddhism there is a process known in Japanese as sokushinbutsu, which consisted of a specific regimen for self-mummification over nearly a decade of time. This differs from the Christian understanding of incorruptibility in that it was willingly sought after and labored for, as opposed to being a gift given from God to a Saint.


In other cultures, however, an incorrupted body is a sign that the corpse is a vampire. The opposite is also true. Bodies that had decayed too fast were also treated as vampires.




The causes of incorruptibility are disputed. The two main positions can be summarized as an argument for a spiritual cause, or an argument for a physical or environmental cause.


The argument for a spiritual cause may include a belief that the pious nature of the individual in some way permeated the flesh (a metaphysical cause having a physical effect), or a belief that decomposition was prevented by the intervention of a deity.


The argument for a physical cause includes a belief that the corpse has been subjected to environmental conditions such that decomposition is seriously retarded. There are a number of ways of retarding decomposition, but the mechanism commonly stated is that of saponification. Another environmental condition that can be the cause of retarding decomposition is a burial ground that is cool and dry. The retardation of decomposition also occurs if the ground is comprised of soil that is high in certain compounds that bring the bodies moisture to the surface of the skin. It is believed that, under the correct circumstances, the moisture from the skin will be removed from the body, retarding decomposition. It is also suggested that bodies with low amounts of muscle and body fat tend to resist decomposition better.


The Japanese Buddhist process of sokushinbutsu entails a method for self-mummification.


See Also: Bog body.


 Incidence of incorruptibility


Incorruptibility is seen almost overwhelmingly only in Catholic or Orthodox Christian cultures. However, it is argued by some that this is more due to the cultural phenomenon of exhuming the bodies of pious people to discover if they are incorrupt or not, a practice that is uncommon in other cultures, even other Christian cultures. Still, this theory can also be argued, because some saints were accidentally discovered in a state of incorruption when they had already been buried many years, and their tombs were being prepared for re-use. (This is discussed in the referenced book "The Incorruptibles.") Other people were never found incorrupt when their tombs were excavated for re-use.


[edit] Instances of incorruptibility


Among the Saints and holy men and women whose bodies are said to be or have been incorrupt are (also see list in The Incorruptibles):


[edit] Christian


    * St. Agnes of Montepulciano—Roman Catholic nun

    * St. Alexander of Svir—Russian Orthodox monk

    * Blessed Anna Marie Taigi—Roman Catholic

    * St. Amphilochius of Pochayiv - Orthodox monk from western Ukraine, lived in times of the Soviets

    * Sts. Anthony, John, and Eustathios—Russian Orthodox martyrs of Vilnius

    * St. Bernadette-Visionary of Lourdes—Roman Catholic nun

    * St. Catherine of Bologna—Roman Catholic

    * St. Catherine Labouré—Roman Catholic nun

    * St. Charbel Maklouf—Maronite (Eastern Catholic) monk

    * St. Cecilia—Roman Catholic martyr

    * St. Clare of Assisi—Roman Catholic nun

    * St. Clare of Montepulciano—Roman Catholic nun

    * Claudius of Besançon -French bishop and abbot

    * Blessed Dominic Barberi - Roman Catholic missionary to England

    * St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (Mother Cabrini) USA—Roman Catholic nun

    * St. Francis Xavier- Apostle of the Far East—Roman Catholic missionary (History of his incorrupt body)

    * Blessed Imelda—Roman Catholic Dominican nun

    * Blessed Jacinta Marto, visionary at Fatima—Roman Catholic

    * St. John Bosco—Roman Catholic

    * St. John Vianney)—Roman Catholic, Curé (parish priest) of Ars

    * St. Job of Pochayiv - Orthodox monk from western Ukraine

    * Blessed Josaphata Hordashevska - Greek-Catholic nun from western Ukraine

    * St. Louis Orione - Roman Catholic

    * Saint Louise de Marillac—Roman Catholic nun

    * Blessed Margaret of Castello—Roman Catholic

    * St. Margaret Mary (Marie Alacoque)—Roman Catholic Nun

    * St. Maria Mazarello—Roman Catholic

    * St. Matrona of Chios—Orthodox saint

    * St. Rita of Cascia—Roman Catholic nun

    * St. Sunniva of Norway - Roman Catholic martyr, from Selja island.

    * St. Sergius of Radonezh - Orthodox monk

    * St. Thorlac of Iceland - Roman Catholic bishop of Skalholt

    * St. Thorvald of Norway - Roman Catholic martyr from Lier, patron of Oslo

    * St. Vasyl Velychkovsky - Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priest, died in Winnipeg, body found incorrupt 30 years later.

    * St. Veronica Giulianni—Roman Catholic nun

    * St. Vincent de Paul—Roman Catholic priest

    * Vissarion Korkoliacos—Greek Orthodox monk

    * St. Zita— Roman Catholic

    * Blessed Maria Angela of Astorch- Roman Catholic Nun

    * Blessed Maria Margareth Caiani- Roman Catholic Nun

    * St. Benedict the Black- Roman Catholic Monk

    * St. Maria Crucificada- Roman Catholic Nun

    * Blessed Angelina Of Spoleto- Roman Catholic Nun

    * St. Maria Francisca Illagas- Roman Catholic Nun

    * St. John Jacob of Hozevit- Roman Catholic

    * St. Nicholas of Tolentino- Roman Catholic

    * Blessed Betrando De Genies- Roman Catholic

    * St. Peter Julian Eymard- Roman Catholic Priest

    * St. Charles Seeze- Roman Catholic Monk, Mystic and Stigmatis

    * St. Gaspar Louis Bertoni- Roman Catholic Priest

    * St. Maria Goretti- Roman Catholic Virgin and martyr

    * St. Virginia Centurion- Roman Catholic

    * St. Stanislaus kostka- Roman Catholic

    * Venerable Maria Jesus Delgado- Roman Catholic Nun

    * St. Salvador Von Horta- Roman Catholic

    * St. Catherine Of Siena- Roman Catholic Nun and Mystic

    * St. Joana Francisca De Chantal- Roman Catholic Nun

    * St. Joseph Cupertino- Roman Catholic Monk

    * Blessed Stephen Bellesini- Roman Catholic Priest

    * Venerable Solanus Cassey- Roman catholic

    * St. Angela mericci- Roman Catholic Nun

    * St. Alphege- Roman catholic

    * St. Ambrose of Milan- Roman Catholic

    * Blessed Sebastian de Apparisio- Roman Catholic

    * St. Miguel Cordero Febres- Roman Catholic

    * Blessed Maria De Jesus Torres- Roman Catholic Nun

    * St. Juliana Falconeiri- Roman Catholic Nun

    * Blessed Narcisia De Jesus- Roman Catholic

    * St. Angela of The cross- Roman catholic Nun

    * Blesed maria De San Jose- Roman catholic Nun

    * St. Ursula Ledochowski- Roman catholic Nun



[edit] Popes and Bishops


    * Pope Blessed Innocent XI- Roman Catholic pope. Innocent XI died in 1689 and when exhumed from his tomb for beatification, was surprisingly serenely preserved. Today his incorrupt body lies with the incorrupt bodies of Pope St Pius X and Bl Pope John XXIII at the Vatican. The face and hands are lined with silver coating.

    * Pope Blessed Pius IX— Roman Catholic pope

    * Pope saint Pius X— Roman Catholic pope (1903–14)

    * Pope Saint Pius V- Roman catholic Pope


    * St. Cuthbert—Anglo-Saxon, venerated by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans

    * Mgr. Gabriel Manek SVD— Roman Catholic Archibishop of Flores, Indonesia (1918–89)

    * St. Innocent of Irkutsk—Orthodox saint

    * St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco—Orthodox bishop

    * Venerable John Henry Newman—Roman Catholic cardinal

    * St. Josaphat Kuntsevych - Greek-Catholic metropolitan from Ukraine, martyr, murdered in Polotsk. Body is enshrined in Rome.

    * St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn—Orthodox bishop

    * St. Ubaldo Gubbio- Roman Catholic Bishop


[edit] Christian kings and queens


    * St. Olga - Grand duchess of Kyivan Rus' (Ukraine), Orthodox saint, died in 969. During the rule of St Volodymyr it was discovered that her body had not undergone corruption.

    * St. Volodymyr - Grand duke of Kyivan Rus' (Ukraine), Orthodox saint, died July 15, 1015, body found incorrupt in 1635.

    * St. Olav - king of Norway, Roman Catholic saint. In 1075, his incorrupt body was enshrined in what became the cathedral of Nidaros

    * St. Edmund I of England - king of East Anglia. In c. 915 his body was found to be incorrupt and was transferred to nearby Bedricsworth, later called Bury St. Edmunds (venerated by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans).

    * St. Edward the Confessor - king of England (venerated by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans)

    * St. Ferdinand III - Roman Catholic king of Leon and Castile (Spain). His body remains incorrupt. Many miracles took place at his tomb, and Clement X canonized him in 1671.

    * St. Casimir, Patron of Poland and Lithuania—Roman Catholic

    * Blessed Queen Mafalda of Portugal, queen consort of Castile—Roman Catholic


[edit] Other Religions


    * Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov and three other Buddhist holy men

    * Huineng—Zen Buddhist Patriarch

    * Ramakrishna Paramahansa—Hindu holy man

    * Paramahansa Yogananda—Hindu yoga promoter (however, the body had been embalmed[1])


[edit] References


    * The Incorruptibles: A Study of the Incorruption of the Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati, by Joan Carroll Cruz, OCDS, TAN Books and Publishers, Inc, June 1977. ISBN 0-89555-066-0


[1] Jila-ul Ifhaam, by Ibn Qayyim.


[edit] External links


    * Incorruptible Body

    * Incorrupt Relics of St. John Maximovitch