incorruptibility n : the incapability of being corrupted [ant: corruptibility]
- Italian: incorruttibilità
Incorruptibility is the property of a body — usually a human body — that does not decompose after death. Such a body is sometimes referred to as incorrupt or incorruptible (adjective) or as an incorruptible (noun).
Incorruptibility is seen as distinct from the good preservation of a body, or mummification. Incorruptible bodies are often said to have the Odour of Sanctity, exuding a sweet aroma.
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.
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 (monastic elder) 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 in the west 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 the Islamic Prophet, Muhammad
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:
Another possible candidate is that of a Tibetan monk (reported by AFP, quoting the Hindustan Times, 2004). 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 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 as the body will be resurrected later.
The argument for a physical cause includes a belief that the corpse has been subjected to environmental conditions such that decomposition is significantly slowed. 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 composed 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 exclusively 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.
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):
Priests, monastics and laypersons
- St. Adrian of Ondrusov—Russian Orthodox monk and martyr
- St. Adrian of Poshekhon—Russian Orthodox monk and martyr
- St. Agnes of Montepulciano—Roman Catholic nun
- St. Alexander of Svir—Russian Orthodox monk
- St. Alphege-Roman Catholic
- St. Amphilochius of Pochayiv-Orthodox monk from western Ukraine, lived in Soviet times
- St. Angela Merici-Roman Catholic nun
- St. Angela of the Cross-Roman catholic nun
- Blessed Angelina of Spoleto-Roman Catholic nun
- Blessed Anna Marie Taigi—Roman Catholic
- Sts. Anthony, John, and Eustathios—Russian Orthodox martyrs of Vilnius
- St. Benedict the Black-Roman Catholic monk
- St. Bernadette-visionary of Lourdes—Roman Catholic nun
- Blessed Betrando de Genies-Roman Catholic
- St. Catherine of Bologna—Roman Catholic
- St. Catherine Labouré—Roman Catholic nun
- St. Catherine of Siena-Roman Catholic nun and mystic
- St. Cecilia—Roman Catholic martyr
- St. Charbel Maklouf—Maronite (Eastern Catholic) monk
- St. Charles Seeze-Roman Catholic monk, mystic and stigmatist
- St. Clare of Assisi—Roman Catholic nun
- St. Clare of Montefalco—Roman Catholic nun
- Blessed Dominic Barberi-Roman Catholic missionary to England
- St. Francis Xavier-Apostle of the Far East—Roman Catholic missionary (History of his incorrupt body)
- St. Gaspar Louis Bertoni-Roman Catholic priest
- Blessed Imelda—Roman Catholic Dominican nun
- St. Isidore the Laborer
- Blessed Jacinta Marto, visionary at Fatima—Roman Catholic
- St. Jane Frances de Chantal-Roman Catholic nun
- St. Job of Pochayiv-Orthodox monk from western Ukraine
- St. John Bosco—Roman Catholic
- St. John Jacob of Hozevit-Roman Catholic
- St. John Vianney—Roman Catholic, Curé (parish priest) of Ars
- Blessed Josaphata Hordashevska-Greek-Catholic nun from western Ukraine
- St. Joseph of Cupertino-Roman Catholic monk
- Juliana Falconieri-Roman Catholic nun
- St. Louis Orione-Roman Catholic
- St. Louise de Marillac—Roman Catholic nun
- Blessed Margaret of Castello—Roman Catholic
- St. Margaret Mary (Marie Alacoque)—Roman Catholic nun
- Blessed Maria Angela of Astorch—Roman Catholic nun
- St. Maria Crucificada—Roman Catholic nun
- Venerable Maria de Jesus de Ágreda—Roman Catholic nun
- Blessed Maria de Jesus Torres—Roman Catholic nun
- Blesed Maria de San Jose—Roman Catholic nun
- St. Maria Francisca Illagas—Roman Catholic nun
- Venerable Maria Jesus Delgado—Roman Catholic nun
- Blessed Maria Margaret Caiani—Roman Catholic nun
- St. Maria Mazarello—Roman Catholic nun
- St. Matrona of Chios—Orthodox
- St. Miguel Cordero Febres-Roman Catholic
- Blessed Narcisia de Jesus-Roman Catholic
- St. Nicholas of Tolentino-Roman Catholic
- St. Peter Julian Eymard-Roman Catholic priest
- St. Pio of Pietrelcina—Roman Catholic priest
- St. Rita of Cascia—Roman Catholic nun
- St. Sabbas the Sanctified—monk venerated in Catholicism and Orthodoxy .
- St. Salvator of Horta-Roman Catholic
- Blessed Sebastian de Apparisio-Roman Catholic
- St. Sergius of Radonezh-Orthodox monk
- Venerable Solanus Cassey-Roman catholic
- St. Stanislaus Kostka-Roman Catholic
- Blessed Stephen Bellesini-Roman Catholic priest
- St. Sunniva of Norway-Roman Catholic martyr, from Selja island
- St. Thorlac of Iceland-Roman Catholic bishop of Skalholt
- St. Thorvald of Norway-Roman Catholic martyr from Lier, patron of Oslo
- St. Ursula Ledóchowska-Roman catholic nun
- 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
- St. Virginia Centurion-Roman Catholic
- Vissarion Korkoliacos—Greek Orthodox monk
- St. Zita—Roman Catholic
Popes, Bishops and Patriarchs
- 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 body of Pope St Pius X 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. Tikhon—Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow
- St. Ambrose of Milan
- Claudius of Besançon-French bishop and abbot
- 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—Orthodox bishop of Irkutsk
- St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco—Orthodox archbishop
- St. Josaphat Kuntsevych-Greek-Catholic metropolitan from Ukraine, martyr, murdered in Polotsk, relics enshrined in Rome
- St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn—Orthodox bishop
- St. Ubaldo Gubbio-Roman Catholic bishop
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 Saint of Poland and Lithuania—Roman Catholic
- Blessed Queen Mafalda of Portugal, queen consort of Castile—Roman Catholic
- 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
incorruptibility in Spanish: Incorruptibilidad cadavérica
incorruptibility in Portuguese: Corpo incorrupto
incorruptibility in Ukrainian: Нетлінні мощі