Incorruptibility  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Les Inrockuptibles, relics

Incorruptibility is a Roman Catholic belief that supernatural intervention allows some human bodies to avoid the normal process of decomposition after death. Bodies that reportedly undergo little or no decomposition, or delayed decomposition, and are sometimes referred to as incorrupt or incorruptible (adjective) or as an incorruptible (noun). Although it is recognised as supernatural in Roman Catholicism, it is no longer counted as a miracle in the recognition of a saint.

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 or floral, pleasant aroma. As of yet, none of these cases has been verified scientifically.

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Incorruptibility in Christianity

In Roman Catholicism, if a body remains incorruptible after death, this is generally seen as a sign that the individual is a saint, although not every saint is expected to have an incorruptible corpse.

When the Catholic Church recognized incorruptibles, a body was not deemed incorruptible if it had undergone an embalming. As such, although the body of Pope John XXIII remains in a remarkably intact state, after its exhumation, 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.

To the Orthodox Catholic Church, Incorruptibility continues to be an important element for the process of glorification. An important distinction is made between natural mummification and what is believed to be supernatural incorruptibility. For example in The Brothers Karamazov, a fictional novel from 1980 by Fyodor 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.

Causes

The two main positions on incorruptibility can be summarized as an argument for a physical or environmental cause, and an argument for a spiritual cause.

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 also suggested that bodies with low amounts of muscle and body fat tend to resist decomposition better.

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 God, or some other supernatural agent, as the body will be resurrected later.

Instances of claimed incorruptibility

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. Claimed incorruptibles include:

Saints

Beati

Venerables

References




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Incorruptibility" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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