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The body of Mary of Jesus de León y Delgado, Monastery of St. Catherine of Siena found to be incorrupt by the Catholic Church (Tenerife, Spain).

Incorruptibility is a Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief that divine intervention allows some human bodies (specifically saints and beati) to avoid the normal process of decomposition after death as a sign of their holiness. Bodies that undergo little or no decomposition, or delayed decomposition, are sometimes referred to as incorrupt or incorruptible.

Incorruptibility is thought to occur even in the presence of factors which normally hasten decomposition, as in the cases of saints Catherine of Genoa, Julie Billiart and Francis Xavier.[1]


Roman CatholicismEdit

In Roman Catholicism, if a body is judged as incorruptible after death, this is generally seen as a sign that the individual is a saint. Canon law allows inspection of the body so that relics can be taken and sent to Rome. The relics must be sealed with wax and the body must be replaced after inspection. These ritual inspections are performed very rarely and can only be performed by a bishop respecting canon law. A pontifical commission can authorize inspection of the relics and demand a written report.[2] After solemn inspection of the relics, it can be decided that the body is presented in an open reliquary and displayed for veneration. Catholic law allows saints to be buried under the altar, so Mass can be celebrated above the corpse.

The remains of Bernadette Soubirous were inspected multiple times, and reports by the church tribunal confirmed that the body was preserved. The opening of the coffin was attended by multiple canons, the mayor and the bishop in 1919, and repeated in 1925.[3] However, the face and hands were covered with a wax mask.[4]

Not every saint, however, is expected to have an incorruptible corpse. Although incorruptibility is recognized as supernatural, it is no longer counted as a miracle in the recognition of a saint.[5]

Embalmed bodies were not recognized as incorruptibles. For example, although the body of Pope John XXIII remained in a remarkably intact state after its exhumation, Church officials remarked that the body had been embalmed[6] and additionally there was a lack of oxygen in his sealed triple coffin.[citation needed]

Incorruptibility is seen as distinct from the good preservation of a body, or from mummification. Incorruptible bodies are often said to have the odour of sanctity, exuding a sweet or floral, pleasant aroma.

Eastern Orthodox ChurchEdit

To the Eastern Orthodox Church, a distinction is made between natural mummification and what is believed to be supernatural incorruptibility. While incorruptibility is not generally deemed to be a prerequisite for sainthood, there are a great number of eastern Orthodox saints whose bodies have been found to be incorrupt and are in much veneration among the faithful. These include:


The saints and other Christian holy men and women whose bodies are said to be or to have been incorrupt have been catalogued in The Incorruptibles: A Study of the Incorruption of the Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati, a 1977 book by Joan Carroll Cruz.[9]



See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Quigley, Christine (2005). The Corpse: A History. McFarland. p. 254. ISBN 978-0786424498.
  2. ^ The Re-Vesting of the Relics of St. John of Shanghai & San Francisco
  3. ^ "The Body of Saint Bernadette". Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Archived at The Incorruptibles, The bodies of many medieval Catholic saints and martyrs have resisted decay for centuries— just the sort of mystery that begs for scientific inquiry, By Heather Pringle, Discover Vol. 22 No. 6 (June 2001)
  6. ^ Sandri, Luigi (1 June 2001). "Blessed John XXIII's Remains Are Now On View At St Peter's". Christianity Today. Archived from the original on 11 February 2014. Retrieved 11 February 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  7. ^ The Marvelous Wonderworker of All Russia, Holy Venerable Alexander of Svir. St. Petersburg: Holy Trinity Monastery of St. Alexander of Svir, 2002. Archived 2012-04-02 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Carroll Cruz, Joan (1977). The Incorruptibles: A Study of the Incorruption of the Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati. Charlotte, NC: TAN Books. ISBN 978-0-89555-066-8.


  • The Incorruptibles: A Study of the Incorruption of the Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati, by Joan Carroll Cruz, OCDS, TAN Books, June 1977. ISBN 0-89555-066-0.
  • Christian Mummification: An Interpretive History of the Preservation of Saints, Martyrs and Others, by Ken Jeremiah, OCDS, McFarland & Co., Inc., 2012. ISBN 0786465190.

External linksEdit