THE INCORRUPTIBLES


These images belong to Carlo Acutis (born in London, England, in 1991 – died in Assisi, Italy, in 2006) and Bernadette Soubirous (born in Lourdes, France in 1844 – died in Nevers, France in 1879). If you look at the well-preserved bodies, you wouldn’t notice signs of decay and would probably marvel at the young faces with admiration. Carlo died from leukemia when he was 15 years old, and St. Bernadette from tuberculosis when she was 35. Don’t they look gorgeous? The Church, and your senses, would tell you a miracle happened. Not necessarily! I am not against the idea that God preserves these saints. Through God, everything is possible. But if you look at the pictures illustrating this post as representatives of the phenomenon, arguably happening only to Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Saints, you are watching a deception. None of the saints designated as incorruptible by the Catholic Church look this well. What you see are not the real corpses. Their hands and faces, the only visible parts, are covered by masks made of wax and silicone. In St. Bernadette’s case, Pierre Imans, a French artist whose specialty is fabricating fashion mannequins, designed her wax hands and face. I could not find Carlo’s designer. Please understand that the Church is not tricking you into believing these bodies are just sleeping. They are quite open about the history of the bodies now on display. They talk openly about the current condition or past treatments. When looking at these saints, my recommendation is to take out your fears that the Church took you for an idiot. Approach these bodies knowing that the people who take care of their preservation do it with maximum respect and veneration.

According to Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox beliefs, these blessed saints, and many others, avoid the normal process of decomposition of their bodies because of divine intervention to show their holiness. There are more than 250 bodies of members of the church who have partially decomposed. For some reason, unknown to science, some corpses do not deteriorate like others. What happened to many of those bodies can only be described as a miracle. Reasonably, when the Roman Catholic Church exhumes a body and found it incorrupt, they see it as a demonstration of God showing the world that the individual is a Saint, and the Catholic Church is the only church built by Jesus Christ. Incorruptibility, however, is no longer a requirement for sainthood. Catholics refer to the bodies benefiting from God’s gift as incorruptible, which the Catholic Church defines as “a body that remains in a state indistinguishable from sleep long after he or she has died.” The central premise of incorruptibility is that natural processes cannot explain it. The body did not decompose naturally, remains flexible, it does not desiccate like an Egyptian mummy, and it does not get the typical cadaveric rigidity. Additionally, in some cases, these bodies exude a pleasant flowery aroma. Guided by this definition, we can say with certainty that there are only a few incorruptible bodies in either the Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The most famous "incorruptible" is St. Bernadette. She became a well-known figure worldwide because she witnessed numerous visions of the Virgin Mary in her hometown, Lourdes, in France. Authorities from the Catholic Church investigated the apparitions during and after they happened, confirming they were authentic. For the first time, Catholic authorities exhumed her in 1909, thirty years after she died from tuberculosis. Her body appeared "remarkably well preserved and odorless," as declared by the committee, which supervised the exhumation. The doctors present, however, had a different opinion. They described the corpse as "partially mummified, shriveled, the lower parts of the body had turned black, the nose was dilated and shrunken, and the whole body was rigid and sounded like cardboard when struck." Before reburying it, the corpse was prepared and placed in a sealed casket. Ten years later, in 1919, when they exhumed the body again, the leading doctor wrote the following report: "The body is practically mummified, covered with patches of mildew and quite a notable layer of salts, which appear to be calcium salts. The skin has disappeared in some places, but it is still present on most parts of the body." Her last exhumation, performed in 1925, indicated severe deterioration of the corpse. The doctors noted that the "blackish tinge to the face and the sunken eyes and nose would make an unpleasant impression on the public," forcing the authorities to cover the visible parts with wax masks. Notably, St. Bernadette's face mask looks different than the woman in the actual photo taken in her coffin immediately after she died. For the most cited example of miraculous incorruptibility, a mummified body wearing wax masks seems more like a blatant violation of the Church's incorruptibility requirements.

Carlo Acutis' body appears to be incorruptible. There are no visible signs of natural decomposition. He looks exactly the way he did while still alive. When looking at the immaculate body, many will believe his body is incorrupt, which is another severe deception. Silicone masks cover his face and hands to hide the corpse's evident deterioration. The rest of the body is not visible. The authorities in charge dressed the corpse as he looked while alive. When exhumed, Bishop Domenico Sorrentino, in charge of the exhumation, declared that "Carlo's corpse was found in the normal state of transformation typical of the cadaveric condition. A silicone reconstruction of his face and hands was arranged with dignity for its display for public veneration." Translated, the body decomposed normally; accordingly, we had to hide it under the masks before showing him to the public.

When the Catholic Church exhumes a potential saint's body, the remains are covered with wax to be sent to Rome for distribution among selected churches. After the process consummates, the Church can decide to display the body for veneration, in which case, the corpse, regardless of state, can be provided a face and hands masks. This is what occurred when they exhumed Padre Pio, the priest who, allegedly, showed Christ's wounds (stigmata) on his hands, chest, and feet. During his exhumation, they found the embalmed body imperfectly preserved. They did the usual; what you see now are hands and face masks. There are many more! None of the Catholic Saints appear to comply with the Church's requirements. There are no examples of such incorruptibility!

Good preservation is not the same as incorruptibility. There is nothing miraculous about bodies that have been preserved against the ravages of time by an unusual combination of factors: some natural, others still unclear to scientists. There are many wax-covered corpses in Catholic churches. Some of them have relics inside, others don’t, and there are some well –preserved corpses wearing wax or silicone masks. In a substantial number of cases, what you have are mummified bodies of embalmed cadavers or bodies that have kept some semblance of preservation due to natural causes. For example, the body of Pope John XXIII was remarkably well-preserved. None of the officials who witnessed the exhumation were surprised. Before burying him, his body was embalmed, placed in an oxygen-depleted three-ply sealed coffin, and kept above ground. So, he was intact when exhumed and remained intact after his exhumation. At present, incorruptibility, although considered supernatural, does not count as a miracle when recognizing that an individual is a Saint, meaning that not all saints have incorruptible bodies. Incorruptibility is deemed miraculous if the body's preservation is not caused by intentional or unintentional causes such as embalming or mummification. Most corpses identified as incorrupt by the Catholic Church are life-like vessels containing the remains of the deceased. When the authorities expose the actual corpses, you see mummies, skeletons, or highly disfigured presences.

Interrogated about these hoaxes, Church officials declared that the bodies of their saints are notably well-preserved; only her faces and hands decayed too much, forcing the authorities to make wax substitutes. Of course, we cannot see the parts covered by clothing. The Catholic Church does not deny that these mannequins holding the relics are simulated images of the saints. To make them look good is a prerogative of the church’s authorities. I believe the faithful have the right to venerate them, regardless of the corpses’ preservation. The church shouldn’t leave people to believe that these simulated bodies are their miraculously preserved corpses.

The Catholic Church alleges exclusivity when it comes to incorruptible bodies; there are no incorruptible bodies in Protestant churches. But, they are not the only ones to allege those cases. Japanese monks practice a technique that intends to make their bodies incorruptible. Of the thousands who have tried the system, only 20 were mummified when exhumed. The findings of well-preserved cadavers extend to everyday people, including criminals, prostitutes, and representatives of other religious organizations. A case in point is the Jewish prophet Baruch, buried in Iraq, mentioned by Rabbi Louis Ginsberg (Legends of the Jews, Volume 4, Chapter 10). Furthermore, scientists and officials in Northern Europe exhumed about a thousand individuals whose corpses were flexible and well-preserved. The oldest example is that of the Kohlberg Woman, who is 5,500 years old. These bodies meet the Catholic requirements for incorruptibility far better than most of the bodies displayed by the Catholic Church as incorruptible.

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