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Incorruptibility is a Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief that supernatural intervention allows some human bodies to not undergo the normal process of decomposition after death. Bodies that reportedly undergo little or no decomposition are sometimes referred to as incorrupt or incorruptible (adjective) or as an incorruptible (noun). Although it is recognised as supernatural in 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 and pleasant aroma. As of yet, none of these cases have been verified scientifically.

Incorruptibility in Christianity

In Catholic and Orthodox church, if a body remains incorruptible after death, this is generally seen by Catholic and Orthodox Christian cultures to be 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.

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, the 1880 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.

Causes

The two main positions on incorruptibility 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 God 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 also suggested that bodies with low amounts of muscle and body fat tend to resist decomposition better.

Instances of claimed 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



Popes, Bishops and Patriarchs



Christian kings and queens



References



See also




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