Corpses, once buried without a coffin takes eight to twelve months to get reduced to skeletons. And if there is a coffin, the process of decomposition slows down greatly. But there are some corpses found throughout history, which weren’t mummified, and still, they simply didn’t decompose like the way other corpses would and such corpses continue to create fascinations among scholars, scientists as well as religious groups.
This list is about 3 such most famous corpses which didn’t rot even after decades and centuries and is now revered as saints by the Catholics and they believe it is divine intervention that causes such unexplainable (yet) phenomenon. The list, however, goes on as there have been many similar cases that have come to the notice of the world.
1. St. Bernadette Soubirous (Died in 1879)
Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844 in Lourdes, France, in the family of a miller. She was, from a very early age, a sickly child but she was also a special person. At around 14 years of age, one day when she was out gathering firewood, she saw a white figure and a light which she later described in her testimony as ‘a small young lady’. But it was only the first of the 18 such visions that she had in total of the mysterious figure which later revealed herself as Virgin Mary.
As usual, people and even the church doubted her story, but she never changed her statements. In one of such visions, the figure told her that she was not going to be happy in her life until the next. In her later days at the convent when she was called ‘lazybones’ by a fellow nun, she replied that it was her job to be ill.
By the time she was thirty-five years old, she was suffering from asthma, tuberculosis, and tumor on her right knee beside other complications. On April 16, 1879, she died while sitting near a fireplace after feeling suffocated.
But when her body was dug out of her grave 30 years after her death in the year 1909, to everyone’s amazement, the body was still intact. Her skin tone was normal, teeth were in place. She was given a bath and buried again, only to be exhumed again in 1919 and in 1925. Yet, her body remained incorruptible. But due to the bath, her skin tone faded a little, which was later restored by a wax mask.
She was canonized as a saint in 1933 by Pope Pius XI and her body rests today at Lourdes and is open to visitors.
2. St. Silvan (Died in 4th Century CE)
The body of incredibly intact young St. Silvan is one of the oldest and most famous of the bodies that refused to decompose. Ironically, though the body, which is on public display at the Church of Saint Blaise in Dubrovnik, Croatia, is immensely popular among people in general and Catholic Christians in particular, nothing much is known about the corpse, or in fact, who precisely he was and since there have been a number of ‘Silvans’ canonized by Rome, it is also confusing which saint he was.
It is believed that St. Silvan was martyred for his faith in the 4th Century CE, making the body at the present time about 1600 years old. The way he was killed can be clearly known by seeing his head, which is thrown back on the pillow, revealing a huge cut on his neck.
Certainly, looking at the body now, it is clear that some waxwork has been done on him, but nevertheless, the way that the body survived for over one and a half millennium is enough to boggle the minds of people.
He appears to be quite young when he died and the clothes and embroidered cross on his chest suggests that he was possibly a priest, a very devout Christian and someone who belonged to high ranking people of his time.
3. Padre Pio (Died in 1968)
Padre Pio was immensely popular during his lifetime because of several factors. Firstly, he was a priest, secondly, he was a man of miracles, and thirdly, he was a stigmatic. For those who are not aware of what being a stigmatic mean, it is when some people start developing wounds on their bodies, particularly in hands and feet resembling the wounds Jesus had suffered during his crucifixion, for no apparent reason. Padre Pio was one of the most famous stigmatics to have ever lived.
Padre Pio was born in the year 1887 at Pietrelcina, Italy, and was very religious from an early age. His friends in the school were always amazed by his personality and drive for God and this love for God led him to be a priest at the age of 23 years. For years, he prayed continuously and soon he was able to prophesize, heal people, have visions of heaven, understand and speak languages which he didn’t study, levitate and even able to see angelic being invisible to the eyes of others. But despite all his gifts, he himself suffered from poor health. He even served as a medic in the WWI.
On September 20, 1918, while he was hearing confessions, he for the first time noticed the signs of stigma on his body and for the next 50 years till his death, he bled continuously. On September 22, 1968, he was found dead while still kneeling for prayers.
His reputation and fame were such that he was eventually canonized as a saint in the year 2002 by Pope John Paul II. When his body was exhumed 40 years after his death, it was found to be well preserved. There were parts which had decomposed, but in totality, it was still whole and largely incorrupt. Nevertheless, his face was covered with a silicone mask to make it viewable to the public.
Today, the body of Padre Pio rests at the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Rome and is open for visitors.