Incorruptibility refers to a Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief that divine intervention allows the bodies of some saints to avoid the normal process of decomposition after death. The bodies of such saints, which are called incorrupt or incorruptible, undergo little decomposition or delayed decomposition as a sign of the saints' holiness.
Covert embalming is sometimes invoked to explain the appearance of incorruptibility. The incorruptibility may occur in the presence of factors that bolster decomposition, as in the cases of Catherine of Genoa, Julie Billiart or Francis Xavier.
In Roman Catholicism, if a body remains incorruptible after death, this is generally seen as a sign that the individual is a saint. Not every saint, however, is expected to have an incorruptible corpse. Although incorruptibility is recognized as supernatural, it is no longer counted as a miracle in the recognition of a saint.
Embalmed bodies were not recognized as incorruptibles. For example, while the body of Pope John XXIII remained in a remarkably intact state after its exhumation, Church officials quickly remarked that the body had been embalmed and additionally there was a lack of oxygen in his sealed triple coffin.
Incorruptibility is seen as distinct from the good preservation of a body, or from mummification. Incorruptible bodies are often said to have the odor of sanctity, exuding a sweet or floral, pleasant aroma.
To the Eastern Orthodox Church, Incorruptibility continues to be an important element for the process of glorification. An important distinction is made between natural mummification and what is believed to be supernatural incorruptibility. There are a great number of eastern Orthodox saints whose bodies have been found to be incorrupt and are in much veneration among the faithful. These include:
The saints and other Christian holy men and women whose bodies are said to be or to have been incorrupt have been catalogued in The Incorruptibles: A Study of the Incorruption of the Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati a 1977 book by Joan Carroll Cruz. Incorruptibles include:
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