Apart from Count Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz, there are other noteworthy non-religious examples of incorruptibility, such as King Charles V of Spain. But the majority of such cases involve saintly persons. The body of Saint Bernadette, still displayed at Nerves, France, has not decayed since she died in 1879. Two days after her death in 1770 the corpse of Saint Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart showed no sign of the disease that reduced her body to a swollen purple mass during her life.
Saint Cecilia, a Roman Christian martyred in AD 177, was on public view for a month in 1599, her body unchanged and still showing the wound from her partial beheading. And in his Ecclesiastical History the Venerable Bede recorded the remarkable preservation of Saint Ethelreda, founder of the monastery at Ely in Cambridgeshire, England. Sixteen years after the saint died in AD 679, his body seemed to be that of someone who had just fallen asleep.
After the Polish saint Andrew Bobola was violently martyred in 1657, regular examinations of his corpse established incorruptibility. When Red Army troops took his body from the church at Pinsk in 1922, Saint Bobola’s fatal injuries could still be seen quite clearly.
The remains of the Lebanese saint Charbel Makhlouf, who died in 1898, survived the ravages of time and moisture in a wet, muddy grave for 45 weeks. They were reburied in a zinc-lined coffin. The zinc corroded, but the body remained intact. And every year since 1950 the body has again been inspected, but has shown no signs of deterioration.
Several natural conditions or processes can help preserve a body. A dry atmosphere or chemicals in the body or in the surrounding air can do it. The body can seem fresh and life-like if saponification occurs, as this gives flesh a soapy texture. Careful embalming prevents decay too, as shown by Egyptian mummies, and also by Lenin’s body in Moscow’s Red Square. But many of the cases involving holy figures employ none of these methods and thus defy the best scientific explanations.
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