- Roman Catholics once believed that holy people skipped the decomposition after death.
- The ‘incorruptibles’ were often turned into saints with their bodies lavishly displayed in an open reliquary for worship.
Have your read our Bizarreticles on the Stigmata of Therese Neumann or the Exorcism of Anneliese Michel yet? Well, those wacky Catholics are at it again! Bizarrepedia takes a look at preserved saints.
Sometimes a saint’s body appears to avoid the usual decaying process after death. Catholics believe these saints are preserved by divine intervention which symbolises their holiness. When this happens the Church can deem the saint ‘incorruptible.’
First, the body is inspected by a bishop. Next, relics (remains or belongings) are sealed in wax and taken to Rome. A pontifical commission authorises further inspection of the relics. If preservation is confirmed, the body is incorruptible and is displayed in an open reliquary for worship. Incorruptible saints are said to possess the odour of sanctity — exuding a floral aroma.
Mary was born in 1643 in the Canary Islands. From a young age Mary displayed mystical powers. She could make the doors of the town church open by praying to Jesus. Also a particular laurel tree refused to grow except when tended by Mary. She was adopted by her aunt after the deaths of her parents.
The aunt wanted to leave Mary her farm when she died, but Mary declined, instead joining the nuns of the Dominican Second Order after receiving a vision in a dream. She would live in the monastery for the rest of her life. During this time she performed many miracles. Once, her devotional Our Lady of Solitude medal was broken and repaired itself a few days later. Another time she levitated in front of the nuns. She would also go into fits of ecstasy in which she would feel the presence of God.
Mary struck up a friendship with a pirate named Amaro Rodríguez Felipe, whose sister was Mary’s roommate at the monastery. Amaro later had a strange encounter in Cuba when he got in a fight with another pirate. Just as the man was about to kill Amaro, Mary appeared and rescued him. She was at the monastery the whole time. Bilocation (being in two places at once) is a miracle attributed to many saints.
Mary died on 15 February 1731 after experiencing a state of ecstasy. A stigmata wound was found in her side. Three years later she was exhumed - her body was found to be preserved and jasmine-scented. It is still displayed in a glass-covered coffin that Amaro donated, at the Monastery of St. Catherine.
John was born in France in 1786. His family were devout Catholics. During the French Revolution, it was illegal for priests to hold Mass, but many rebel priests would hold secret Mass. The The Vianney’s were among the attendees of these clandestine gatherings. Seeing the priests risk their lives to tend their flocks, John saw them as heroes. He grew up in the Catholic faith, receiving his sacraments at the usual ages, albeit in secret, until Napoleon re-established the Church in France in 1802.
At the age of twenty, John enrolled in presbytery school. Though he struggled academically, John persevered. His studies were interrupted in 1809 upon his conscription. He was supposed to report at Lyons immediately, but fell ill and had to be hospitalised which caused him to miss his deployment. Once released from the hospital he was sent to Roanne to be deployed. He took a detour to a church to pray and lost his group.
He met a man who led him to the village of Les Noes, where deserters had gathered. John hid there for over a year, opening a school for the village children in that time. After being granted amnesty in March 1810 John returned to the presbytery school and resumed his studies. Again he struggled but his tenacity and devotion impressed his teachers.
He was ordained on 12 August, 1815. He received his own parish three years later, where he made a name for himself as a deeply pious man. People made pilgrimages from all around to see him until his death in 1859. Upon later exhumation, St. John’s body was found to be preserved by the Catholic Church. His body is on display at the Basilica at Ars, France.