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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.
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, or some other supernatural agent, 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):
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Priests, monastics and laypersons
- St. Adrian of Ondrusov — Russian Orthodox monk and martyr
- St. Agnes of Montepulciano — Roman Catholic nun
- St. Amphilochius of Pochayiv — Orthodox monk from western Ukraine, lived in Soviet times
- St. Andrew Bobola - Roman Catholic Jesuit priest
- St. Angela Merici — Roman Catholic nun
- Blessed Anna Marie Taigi — Roman Catholic
- Sts. Anthony, John, and Eustathios — Russian Orthodox martyrs of Vilnius
- St. Benedict the Black — Roman Catholic monk
- Saint Bénézet - Roman Catholic visionary of Avignon; miraculously started the construction of the bridge that bears his name.
- St. Bernadette Soubirous — visionary of Lourdes, Roman Catholic nun
- St. Catherine of Bologna — Roman Catholic
- St. Catherine Labouré — Roman Catholic nun
- St. Catherine of Siena-Roman Catholic nun and mystic
- St. Cecilia — Roman Catholic martyr
- St. Charbel Maklouf — Maronite (Eastern Catholic) monk
- St. Clare of Assisi — Roman Catholic nun
- St. Clare of Montefalco — Roman Catholic nun
- St. Frances Xavier Cabrini — Roman Catholic nun
- St. Francis of Paola — Roman Catholic friar
- St. Gaspar Louis Bertoni — Roman Catholic priest
- Hallvard Vebjørnsson of Norway — Roman Catholic martyr from Lier, patron of Oslo
- Blessed Imelda — Roman Catholic Dominican nun
- St. Isidore the Laborer 
- Blessed Jacinta Marto, visionary at Fátima — Roman Catholic
- St. Job of Pochayiv-Orthodox monk from western Ukraine
- St. John Vianney — Roman Catholic, Curé (parish priest) of Ars
- Blessed Josaphata Hordashevska — Greek-Catholic nun from western Ukraine
- St. Louise de Marillac — Co-founder of Sisters of Charity
- St. Pio of Pietrelcina — Roman Catholic priest
- St. Salvator of Horta — Roman Catholic
- St. Sergius of Radonezh — Orthodox monk*St. Rita of Cascia — Roman Catholic nun
- St. Sabbas the Sanctified — monk venerated in Catholicism and Orthodoxy
- St. Silvan—Roman Catholic Martyr
- St. Sunniva of Norway — Roman Catholic martyr, from Selja island
- St. Ursula Ledóchowska — Roman Catholic nun
- St. Vasyl Velychkovsky — Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priest, died in Winnipeg, body found incorrupt 30 years later
- St. Veronica Giulianni — Roman Catholic nun
- St. Vincent de Paul — Roman Catholic priest
- St. Virginia Centurione Bracelli — Roman Catholic
- Vissarion Korkoliacos — Greek Orthodox monk
- St. Zita — Roman Catholic
- Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz — German Knight
- Vincenzo Camuso — Roman Catholic priest
Popes, Bishops and Patriarchs
- St. Tikhon — Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow
- Claudius of Besançon — French bishop and abbot
- St. Cuthbert — Anglo-Saxon, venerated by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans
- St. Innocent — Orthodox bishop of Irkutsk
- St. Josaphat Kuntsevych — Greek-Catholic metropolitan from Ukraine, martyr, murdered in Polotsk, relics enshrined in Rome
Philosophers and other non-Christian religious personalities
- Paramahansa Yogananda, Indian yogi and guru. As reported in Time Magazine on August 4, 1952, Harry T. Rowe, Los Angeles Mortuary Director of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California where Yogananda's body was embalmed, stated in a notarized letter:
The absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramahansa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience.... No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death.... No indication of mold was visible on his skin, and no visible drying up took place in the bodily tissues. This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one.... No odor of decay emanated from his body at any time....
- ↑ rISCOVER Vol. 22 No. 6 (June 2001), available at href=http://web.archive.org/web/20010610014402/http://www.discover.com/june_01/featsaints.html
- ↑ http://magnificat.ca/cal/engl/05-10.htm St. Isidore of Madrid, May 10th Feastday
- ↑ "Icorrupt Bodies of the Saints". Catholic Apologetics, Australia. http://www.catholicapologetics.info/library/gallery/incorrupt/incorrupt.htm#Silvan. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
- ↑ Vincenzo Camuso – The Friendly Catholic Mummy of Campania
- ↑ "Zio Vincenzo Camuso"di ENZO COVIELLO
- The Incorruptibles: A Study of the Incorruption of the Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati, by Joan Carroll Cruz, OCDS, TAN Books and Publishers, Inc, June 1977. ISBN 0-89555-066-0
- Bog body
- Buddhist mummies
- Preservation of the body of Vladimir Ilyich Leninpt:Corpo incorrupto