On Incorruptibility

One of the stranger supposed miracles in the Christian catalog is the miracle of incorruptibility. More common in Catholicism (I have yet to come across any Protestant examples), this term refers to a saint or holy person whose body miraculously refuses to decompose after death, instead remaining intact and even lifelike.

This apologist site lists some of the more prominent Catholic incorruptibles, though as is usual with apologetics, considerable exaggeration has crept in. For example, regarding one of the most famous incorruptibles, St. Bernadette Soubiros, the site reports how doctors were amazed at the supposedly flawless preservation of the body over fifty years after death. Yet when a reliquary was being prepared to display Bernadette’s body (it is still on display today in a chapel in France), a decision was made to create wax masks to cover her face and hands. Visitors to Bernadette’s shrine today are seeing wax, not skin. The Catholic site tactfully claims that this was done to cover up a “slight” skin discoloration on the face, but does not explain why a slight discoloration would require a full-face wax mask and wax to cover the hands as well. The Wikipedia article on Bernadette says, probably more accurately, that at that time the face had a blackish tinge and the eyes and nose were noticeably sunken.

Still, the surprising degree of preservation of this and other corpses does merit closer examination. What could account for a body remaining more or less intact for decades?

In some cases, the answer turns out to be obvious in retrospect. Consider the story of St. Margaret of Cortona, whose body has remained incorrupt and whole for over seven hundred years – seemingly a great miracle. Yet a recent forensic examination, commissioned by the Catholic church and described in the June 2001 edition of Discover, revealed the startling truth:

As Fulcheri gently lifted the hem of her dress up over her legs, all those assembled began to murmur. Several long incisions streaked along her thighs; other, deeper cuts ran along her abdomen and chest. Clearly made after death, they had been sewn shut with a whipstitch in coarse black thread. Saint Margaret had been artificially mummified.

The pathologists who examined Margaret’s body later unearthed ecclesiastical records that told the whole story: the people of her town had asked the church to embalm her when she died. This had been done, with remarkable thoroughness. But the records of this fact had been lost, and over time, people forgot the circumstances of her preservation and simply began to assume that it was a miracle.

This story raises the question of how many other “incorruptible” saints might have undergone artificial preservation. Nevertheless, embalming does not seem to be the whole answer. The article notes that some other incorruptible bodies have been examined and showed no similar signs of human handiwork. Is this a miracle, or are there natural processes that can preserve a body?

If incorruptibility is a miracle, it is not solely a Christian one. Consider the case of Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, a Russian Buddhist lama who died in 1927. Allegedly, he told his followers to exhume his body 30 years after his death, and when they did, they found it still intact, undecayed. The corpse was reburied, but 45 years later, in 2002, it was exhumed again and again discovered to be perfectly preserved. To this day, Itigilov’s body is on display in the monastery in Ivolginsk, still sitting in the lotus position:

The lamas have dressed his body in a golden robe, with a blue sash laid across his lap. His eyes are closed, his features blurred, though the shape of his face and his nose certainly resemble the 1913 photograph. His hands remain flexible, his nails perfectly trimmed. His skin is leathery but soft. His head is still covered in short-trimmed hair.

(Other Buddhist monks, known as sokoshinbutsu, are also known to have well-preserved bodies, supposedly as the result of ritual ascetic practices they carried out prior to death.)

The fact that incorruptibility occurs in people other than Christian saints makes the miracle explanation considerably less likely. Far more likely is that natural processes, perhaps rare or only operating under the right circumstances, can conspire to preserve a body even in the absence of any special measures. As it happens, some candidate processes that fit the bill are known.

One example is called adipocere. In a damp, alkaline environment, fatty tissue in a body can undergo a chemical reaction that turns it into a hard, waxy, soaplike substance (which is why adipocere is often called “grave wax”). As Cecil Adams notes, the end result is a cadaver which looks “like something you’d find in a wax museum” (“albeit the George Romero wing”, he adds dryly – which is fitting, considering that most claims of incorruptibility have more than a tinge of the macabre). Adipocere inhibits decomposition, preserves the shape of the body like a cast, and can last for centuries. It is very likely the explanation for many incorruptible corpses.

Another candidate is mummification. If left in a very cold, salty or dry environment, a body can become desiccated and resistant to decay. (Decay typically requires at least some moisture – this is why honey does not rot or ferment, because its low moisture content makes it impossible for bacteria to grow in it.) Natural mummies like Otzi the Iceman are well-known. Though these bodies may not be completely lifelike, they do remain intact, and with a little pious imagination (and perhaps some judicious use of wax), it’s not hard to see how another claim of incorruptibility could be advanced.

Most important, and seemingly never considered by apologists, is this: How common is it for a body to remain intact? Many religious beliefs arise from the fallacy of counting the hits and forgetting the misses. Since most bodies are not exhumed, this is especially apt. It may be that postmortem preservation is common, but we do not know because we usually never check. In the absence of detailed evidence, the few undecayed bodies we know of should not be proclaimed to be extraordinary, and if these incorrupt Catholic saints are just a few among a much larger category of examples, the claim that their preservation is due to God’s special favor would swiftly collapse.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Stephen

    Add to the examples you mention the scores (hundreds?) of bog bodies from northern Europe, some of which have been preserved – admittedly heavily discoloured for thousands of years.

  • Stephen

    Add to the examples you mention the scores (hundreds?) of bog bodies from northern Europe, some of which have been preserved – admittedly heavily discoloured for thousands of years.

  • SM

    After Alexander of Macedon died of a fever, his body was said to remain miraculously preserved for several days despite the heat of a Babylonian summer. The most likely explanation there is that he fell into a coma for a few days before truly dying, and Iron Age medicine wasn’t able to tell the difference. However, his body was professionally embalmed soon enough and lasted well into Roman times.

  • SM

    After Alexander of Macedon died of a fever, his body was said to remain miraculously preserved for several days despite the heat of a Babylonian summer. The most likely explanation there is that he fell into a coma for a few days before truly dying, and Iron Age medicine wasn’t able to tell the difference. However, his body was professionally embalmed soon enough and lasted well into Roman times.

  • http://www.catholicinside.blogspot.com Tiffany

    A very interesting analysis and one that provides food for serious thought, even to a hardcore Catholic like myself. I appreciate the factual presentation.

    I would like to point out, though, that the fact that non-Catholics, even non-Christians, have been preserved is not necessarily an argument against a divine cause. A “saint” is simply a person who has joined God in heaven; we have no reason to believe that all such people were Catholics during their earthly lives.

  • Alex Weaver

    The idea that a person can not only enter heaven but become a saint without following the Catholic religion is not well reflected in Catholic doctrine as I understand it. Nevertheless, this perspective is commendable.

    As for the incorruptibility thing, I find it somewhat ironic that both evil people (King John of England, because he was “not a good man” was rumored to have not decomposed, and “may the ground reject ye” was apparently used as a curse in some quarters in the middle ages. Of course, this being from a young adults’ book on vampire mythology…) and saints are said to have not decayed after death. I wonder if anyone’s written on this curious element of mythology?

  • Alex Weaver

    The idea that a person can not only enter heaven but become a saint without following the Catholic religion is not well reflected in Catholic doctrine as I understand it. Nevertheless, this perspective is commendable.

    As for the incorruptibility thing, I find it somewhat ironic that both evil people (King John of England, because he was “not a good man” was rumored to have not decomposed, and “may the ground reject ye” was apparently used as a curse in some quarters in the middle ages. Of course, this being from a young adults’ book on vampire mythology…) and saints are said to have not decayed after death. I wonder if anyone’s written on this curious element of mythology?

  • Jeff T.

    An earlier essay that you wrote described most miracles as mundane. For example, seeing the face of Mary in the syrup covering a stack of pancakes hardly qualifies as a miracle. Nearly 99.99999 % of the miracles that I have read about are either disproven as you have done in this essay, are from ancient times with no factual evidence whatsoever to support the claims, or are of such a trivial and ridiculous nature as to be irrelevant.

    Surely an omnipotent being could provide a greater miracle such as stopping the aging process in its entirety rather than just preserving a corpse. I hope that I am making the point that I am not impressed even if these preservations were true. They are corpses, and I would be offended if a god chose to use his power by preserving corpses rather than life.

  • Jen

    In Chicago there is a woman who died young who is now on disply in a glass box (!) that never decomposed. She is not yet a saint, though I think she might have died in childbirth.

    When I went to Rome, I saw a whole lotta body parts from saints. I think it is by far the weirdest part of Catholicism- this person was great! Let’s hack them into bits and mail them all over to different churches! There was also one saint- Saint Agnes- whose suposed skull is on display. They couldn’t even take it down, because it had to be hers- even though it is the size of my fist. I guess I missed the part in history where we were all REALLY tiny.

  • Alex Weaver

    There was also one saint- Saint Agnes- whose suposed skull is on display. They couldn’t even take it down, because it had to be hers- even though it is the size of my fist. I guess I missed the part in history where we were all REALLY tiny.

    [Insert contrived joke about dancing angels and pinheads here. x.x]

    I didn’t know that they were prone to separating body parts like that. This strikes me as especially creepy. O.o

  • Alex Weaver

    There was also one saint- Saint Agnes- whose suposed skull is on display. They couldn’t even take it down, because it had to be hers- even though it is the size of my fist. I guess I missed the part in history where we were all REALLY tiny.

    [Insert contrived joke about dancing angels and pinheads here. x.x]

    I didn’t know that they were prone to separating body parts like that. This strikes me as especially creepy. O.o

  • Mrnaglfar

    Separating body parts is just good economics. If a saint dies, you only have one dead saint; but if you cut that saint up you now have X amounts of equally holy pieces that can bring in pilgrims. Same way they could splinter crosses or remove thorns from the supposed crown Jesus was wearing when crucified. People were paying large sums of money to have these things

  • Mrnaglfar

    Separating body parts is just good economics. If a saint dies, you only have one dead saint; but if you cut that saint up you now have X amounts of equally holy pieces that can bring in pilgrims. Same way they could splinter crosses or remove thorns from the supposed crown Jesus was wearing when crucified. People were paying large sums of money to have these things

  • Thumpalumpacus

    ” Visitors to Bernadette’s shrine today are seeing wax, not skin. The Catholic site tactfully claims that this was done to cover up a “slight” skin discoloration on the face….”

    Christians being dishonest? I don’t believe it.

  • hereigns

    First, I really dislike the use of putting Catholics with Christians; to me it’s like linking an agnostic with an atheist. I find the displaying of body parts whether real or made of wax as disturbing.

    Thumpalumpacus, “Christians being dishonest? I don’t believe it”, I sense you’re being sarcastic, lol. The truth is it doesn’t matter who you are; whether you’re Catholic, atheist, Christian, Jew, or Gentile I’m afraid I have bad news, we all fall short of the glory of God.

    Who really cares about what happens to our natural body when we die anyway when it’s our soul that lives on? If someone’s body never decomposed but had no life , or soul within, what does it matter? Is it a sign you seek? Jesus said to the doubters of His time, “…An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Which ofcourse He was referring to His death and resurrection 3 days later.

    The Apostle Paul hints at this topic as well in 2 Timothy…led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. I ask you, what keeps you from coming to the knowledge of the truth.

    Paul writes in Romans 1:20…For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. None of us are without excuse.

    Rob

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    First, I really dislike the use of putting Catholics with Christians; to me it’s like linking an agnostic with an atheist.

    Agnostics are atheists. And Catholics are Christians by any reasonable definition of the term (never mind whether they follow all the rules in the Bible – they don’t, but neither does any other Christian sect).

  • hereigns

    Ebonmuse,
    I must agree the masses do lump Catholics and Christians together. Which is unfortunate because one size doesn’t fit all. As you are probably already aware, the term “Christian” was first coined in the church (body of believers) at Antioch by Luke in the book of Acts, “…so it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” And as you probably know the definition of Christian means “Christ follower”. Not all who profess to know Christ are Christians.

    Christianity is not about following rules but rather it’s a matter of the heart. If a person loves the Lord they will willingly want to follow Him. Trying to obey the Bible is different than actually following the Holy Spirits leading.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Rob:

    1) Catholics most certainly are Christians, albeit a branch and not the entire tree. While not wanting to get into y’all’s interdenominational snarlings, your denial of Catholicism’s Christianity smacks of an argument of convenience.

    2) Regarding the seeking of signs, I answer emphatically, “NO.” I seek evidence. The difference? Evidence is observable by others, is repeatable under similar conditions, and is material. This evidence of Catholicism’s falsity should raise your own eyebrows, for your branch of Christianity, no matter which one it is, has equally suspect “signs” which I suspect you’re afraid to admit you crave. Or else you’re not awaiting the Rapture?

    3) I disagree with your seeming disregard for the disposition of one’s body after death. Being atheist, I value most deeply the connection I feel with the Universe in knowing that the elements in my body were created inside supernovae; and I see myself only as their temporary vessel. I want them to go into other forms of life after I am done with them, and am horrified at the thought of being buried in a metal box where my body cannot feed other life.

  • hereigns

    EbonMuse,
    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my posting. It’s sincerely a pleasure to meet you.

    Please allow me to refer back to the original definition of a Christian; “Someone who follows Christ”. Christ did not setup a denomination, He setup His church. Denominations were/are man-made and are built due to theological differences/interpertations of God’s Word. So it really doesn’t matter what denomination you are; Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, etc… what matters is whether or not a person is following the Holy Spirit’s leading. 2 Cor. 3:6 …the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.

    “This evidence of Catholicism’s falsity should raise your own eyebrows…your branch of Christianity, no matter which one it is, has equally suspect “signs” which I suspect you’re afraid to admit you crave. Or else you’re not awaiting the Rapture?” Your point is valid, all denominations have their problems; some stand out more than others. If I looked to man, Christian or not, you’re right I would be seriously disappointed most of the time. But good news for me, I don’t. My source is from above and not of this earth.

    You value your connection with the Universe? Please enlighten me, what connection? What life is your body going to “feed”? Outside of Christ, what life has someone’s death brought forth life?

  • OMGF

    hereigns,
    You are making the fallacy commonly known as a “No True Scotsman.” The definition you give is that Christians are those “who follow Christ.” You have no evidence that Catholics do not follow Christ, but there is much evidence that they do.

    Your point is valid, all denominations have their problems; some stand out more than others.

    Perhaps you didn’t understand the part where Thump pointed out that your denomination also has its problems. Then, you subtly shifted the argument, thus showing exactly what Thump was talking about.

    You value your connection with the Universe? Please enlighten me, what connection? What life is your body going to “feed”? Outside of Christ, what life has someone’s death brought forth life?

    It’s called the circle of life. When we die, we become food for other plants and animals. Were you not aware of this?

  • Mrnaglfar

    My source is from above and not of this earth.

    And from where does this source derive it’s purpose, since it seems more than able to give it out?

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    Thumpalumpacus already touched on this, but I just wanted to reiterate it: A connection that one has with the universe, which is rather awe-inspiring in its own right, is, as Carl Sagan put it (apparently in Cosmos, which I have yet to see), “We are made of star stuff.”

    I also have to agree with Thumpalumpacus about what happens with my body as well. I’ve only half-jokingly said to just “throw it to the wolves” or “dump it in the woods” when I die! More seriously, I’d rather have it cut up and have my organs given to people who can use them, or maybe used for research (decaying in a field for forensics, autopsy for medical students, whatever).

  • hereigns

    OMGF,
    I’m not going to “beat-up” Catholics here, that was not my intention. Only God knows someone’s heart and He is the judge not me; I was only speaking in relative terms. God states in His Word that if we confess with our mouth Jesus Christ and believe in our heart that God has raised Him from the dead we will be saved. Only God sees the heart and not man. No religion, whether that person be associated with Jehovah Witness, Mormon, Catholic, or Baptist will save someone’s soul only faith Jesus can do that.

    I freely admit that EVERY denomination has it share of problems, including my own, Which depending on your view point is either a reason for or against God. Obviously I see it as a reason for God. The Church, with all its flaws, with all its utter failures, can still make a difference in this fallen world.

    I’m aware of the term “circle of life”, I wasn’t being sarcastic just wanting clarification. It’s clear now thank you.

    Rob

  • Mrnaglfar

    I freely admit that EVERY denomination has it share of problems, including my own, Which depending on your view point is either a reason for or against God. Obviously I see it as a reason for God. The Church, with all its flaws, with all its utter failures, can still make a difference in this fallen world.

    So how do the flaws and utter failures of every institution claiming to have the word of god, whatever religion or pseudo-religion that is, reflect as evidence for the existence of not just a god but your god? And when you say ‘make a difference’ you might want to clear that up; difference isn’t always a good thing. For instance, the outstanding amounts of violence in the world that stems from religion, or the intolerance of others. How many ‘positive’ difference can you list that are solely offered by religion in improving the lives of people around the world?
    Also, the built in assumption of this being a ‘fallen’ world is almost too silly to expand upon. Quite frankly, I don’t enjoy being told my life is meaningless void without whatever particular imaginary man you pray to.

  • hereigns

    So how do the flaws and utter failures of every institution claiming to have the word of god, whatever religion or pseudo-religion that is, reflect as evidence for the existence of not just a god but your god?

    How many ‘positive’ difference can you list that are solely offered by religion in improving the lives of people around the world?

    There are thousands of Christian organizations all over this world who are helping countless lives by bringing food, water, medicine and most importantly sharing the Gospel “Good News” with others. Jesus uses flawed men and women today to heal the deaf, blind, lame, mute, demon-possessed, emotional healings, just to name a few. Both my wife and I have received miraculous healings. There is testimony after testimony of people I personally know who have been healed and set-free from all sorts of addictions as God uses men and women who have allowed God to work through them. The local Church in which I’m a member is raising money to install a water-well and build a Church for a town in Africa. The locals would normally have to travel 15 miles one way just to get water.

    And when you say ‘make a difference’ you might want to clear that up; difference isn’t always a good thing. For instance, the outstanding amounts of violence in the world that stems from religion, or the intolerance of others.

    You’re right, I stand corrected. No argument from me, many people have done much harm for “God”.

    Also, the built in assumption of this being a ‘fallen’ world is almost too silly to expand upon. Quite frankly, I don’t enjoy being told my life is meaningless void without whatever particular imaginary man you pray to.

    Sorry for offending you with my comment, please accept my apology and allow for clarification. I believe as you do that your lift has meaning. All lives are important not just Christians, we all matter!

    In regards to my comment about a fallen world, I believe the evidence speaks for itself.

    Rob

  • Mrnaglfar

    Hereigns,

    I can appreciate your sentiments. You seem like a pretty good person from our brief dealings. I can appreciate the point of life being to love, and taking care of the poor or less fortunate. But I still wonder, why does one need god to do these things. It seems loving people and wanting to make the world a better place for everyone to live in is a perfectly respectable and wonderful sense of meaning in life, but why does it need god in there? The addition of god just creates loads of unanswerable and complicating questions such as: where did god come from, which god are we talking about, and why would god create these kind of problems in the first place etc? The addition of god to questions about the meaning of life is like the addition of god to evolution, or physics, or astronomy; these ideas work find without needing a god.

  • Brock

    In regards to my comment about a fallen world, I believe the evidence speaks for itself.
    No, the evidence only speaks to the current state of the world, which is not noticeably different from the known past. To be a fallen world requires a past golden age, for which we have absolutely no evidence whatever.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “You value your connection with the Universe? Please enlighten me, what connection? What life is your body going to “feed”? Outside of Christ, what life has someone’s death brought forth life?” — Rob

    Rob:

    Unprotected bodies are devoured by bacteria, which use this energy to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere, which plants use to synthesize chlorophyll, which they use as food to grow, and when they grow, animals, including us, eat them. That’s one way I re-enter the cycle. Further, those elements not used immediately –say, carbon, or the iron of my blood — are also uptaken by plants, turned into tissue mass, and thus also consumed by animals, where it becomes a component of blood, or adenosine, or whatever. That iron atom has an age at least several million years old, and it continually recirculates through the ecology of the Earth. And yes, knowledge that it was created in an exploding star millions of light years away gives me a connection to the wider Universe, one far more solid in my opinion than the postulated god of a Bronze Age tribe.

    Thus, plant me in raw earth, and watch the daisies grow. Have a bottle of wine while you’re at it.

    And PS — Nes’s suggestion of organ donation is laudable, and one which I hope all readers here take up. Forgive the off-topic addendum.

  • OMGF

    So how do the flaws and utter failures of every institution claiming to have the word of god, whatever religion or pseudo-religion that is, reflect as evidence for the existence of not just a god but your god?

    May I second the question that Mrnaglfar asked above? This has yet to be answered. I suspect that the answer will come down to a case of begging the question, so I’d appreciate it if you could answer in such a way that is evidence based. Thank you.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    There is testimony after testimony of people I personally know who have been healed and set-free from all sorts of addictions as God uses men and women who have allowed God to work through them.

    I understand that you believe that. But just as an exercise in how others perceive things, can you see that for a non-believer, it seems just as plausible that these people are simply people acting on a belief that motivates them to do good things? After all, people of other religions have been motivated by god beliefs that most people today believe are false. And as a non-believer, the fact that people can do wonderful things for strange reasons is not particularly compelling evidence of anything, nor does it suggest that strange reasons are a good, reliable, or necessary way to encourage people to do good things.

    It’s also worth noting that many of the incorruptibles shared similar body-types: generally thin and emaciated from fasting or illness and age. They already practically living mummies before they die: with mostly just skin and bones, the bacteria inside their bodies can never really get going fast enough in decaying internal organs to finish by the time the outer skin has dried out and leatherized.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    There is testimony after testimony of people I personally know who have been healed and set-free from all sorts of addictions as God uses men and women who have allowed God to work through them.

    I understand that you believe that. But just as an exercise in how others perceive things, can you see that for a non-believer, it seems just as plausible that these people are simply people acting on a belief that motivates them to do good things? After all, people of other religions have been motivated by god beliefs that most people today believe are false. And as a non-believer, the fact that people can do wonderful things for strange reasons is not particularly compelling evidence of anything, nor does it suggest that strange reasons are a good, reliable, or necessary way to encourage people to do good things.

    It’s also worth noting that many of the incorruptibles shared similar body-types: generally thin and emaciated from fasting or illness and age. They already practically living mummies before they die: with mostly just skin and bones, the bacteria inside their bodies can never really get going fast enough in decaying internal organs to finish by the time the outer skin has dried out and leatherized.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Late-breaking update: I recently came across this article, The Remains of Doctor Bass (warning: some potentially disturbing photos).

    The article is about the “Body Farm” in Knoxville, Tennessee, a forensic anthropology research facility where cadavers donated to science are deliberately left to decay in a variety of natural conditions. The process of decomposition is meticulously studied and charted, so that when a body is discovered under other circumstances, criminal investigators have a guide to determining the rough time of death.

    The relevance to incorruptibility comes in this excerpt:

    …the facility was founded in 1981 by Dr. Bill Bass, a professor of anthropology at the university. Before the Body Farm was established, information on human decay was astonishingly inadequate, leaving criminal investigators poorly equipped for determining abandoned bodies’ time of death. On one occasion, Dr. Bass was asked to estimate the post-mortem interval of some human remains, and conventional methods indicated approximately one year given the moist flesh still clinging to the man’s bones. When other evidence later revealed that the body had been occupying its coffin since the Civil War, a flummoxed Dr. Bass took it upon himself to finally fill the forensic gap.

    How did a body from the American Civil War remain sufficiently intact to be mistaken for a fairly recent death?

    …Dr. Bass’ underestimated civil War remains… were found to be contaminated with lead from the cast-iron casket. This effectively embalmed the body, making the meat unpalatable to tiny foragers.

    Clearly, there’s more than one way for a body to remain preserved. In rushing to assume that all post-mortem preservation must be due to divine favor, the apologists for incorruptibility have committed a classic God-of-the-Gaps fallacy.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Late-breaking update: I recently came across this article, The Remains of Doctor Bass (warning: some potentially disturbing photos).

    The article is about the “Body Farm” in Knoxville, Tennessee, a forensic anthropology research facility where cadavers donated to science are deliberately left to decay in a variety of natural conditions. The process of decomposition is meticulously studied and charted, so that when a body is discovered under other circumstances, criminal investigators have a guide to determining the rough time of death.

    The relevance to incorruptibility comes in this excerpt:

    …the facility was founded in 1981 by Dr. Bill Bass, a professor of anthropology at the university. Before the Body Farm was established, information on human decay was astonishingly inadequate, leaving criminal investigators poorly equipped for determining abandoned bodies’ time of death. On one occasion, Dr. Bass was asked to estimate the post-mortem interval of some human remains, and conventional methods indicated approximately one year given the moist flesh still clinging to the man’s bones. When other evidence later revealed that the body had been occupying its coffin since the Civil War, a flummoxed Dr. Bass took it upon himself to finally fill the forensic gap.

    How did a body from the American Civil War remain sufficiently intact to be mistaken for a fairly recent death?

    …Dr. Bass’ underestimated civil War remains… were found to be contaminated with lead from the cast-iron casket. This effectively embalmed the body, making the meat unpalatable to tiny foragers.

    Clearly, there’s more than one way for a body to remain preserved. In rushing to assume that all post-mortem preservation must be due to divine favor, the apologists for incorruptibility have committed a classic God-of-the-Gaps fallacy.

  • Becky

    This makes me think of the silly comment always made about the dearly departed….Don’t they look natural??? No, they look dead. No matter how well preserved whether by the hands of man or some natural phenomenon, a dead body is a dead body. The catholics are known for fake miracles and the ‘unexplained’. To expect truth from them is laughable. What does it matter if a body decays or not? It is absolutely ghoulish to keep a corpse for the purpose of viewing. I wonder how these so-called saints would have felt about being put up for display? If this were a true miracle from a true god, those bodies would look and feel as natural as the day they died. That is NOT the case as there is always some amount of decay or discoloration. If god wanted to show his power in a miracle, why waste it on the dead and the silly people who flock to such side-shows? Wouldn’t a miracle be more beneficial feeding the live hungry or healing the live sick? Just to think grown mature people gorge on this nonsense makes me nuts. To them I seriously advise a strong dose of common sense.

  • Becky

    This makes me think of the silly comment always made about the dearly departed….Don’t they look natural??? No, they look dead. No matter how well preserved whether by the hands of man or some natural phenomenon, a dead body is a dead body. The catholics are known for fake miracles and the ‘unexplained’. To expect truth from them is laughable. What does it matter if a body decays or not? It is absolutely ghoulish to keep a corpse for the purpose of viewing. I wonder how these so-called saints would have felt about being put up for display? If this were a true miracle from a true god, those bodies would look and feel as natural as the day they died. That is NOT the case as there is always some amount of decay or discoloration. If god wanted to show his power in a miracle, why waste it on the dead and the silly people who flock to such side-shows? Wouldn’t a miracle be more beneficial feeding the live hungry or healing the live sick? Just to think grown mature people gorge on this nonsense makes me nuts. To them I seriously advise a strong dose of common sense.

  • OMGF

    But Becky, didn’t you know, it’s more important to convert people than to feed them. ;)

  • Becky

    (But Becky, didn’t you know, it’s more important to convert people than to feed them. ;)

    Comment by: OMGF | December 1, 2007, 10:25 pm )

    OMGF, Of course converting people is more important when the church gets richer with each new convert! The catholic church is one of the richest organizations in the world and also one of the most wicked. Deception is their stonghold and truth is buried alive. Try to imagine how many hungry people could be fed just with the hundreds of thousands of dollars the vatican has paid out in child rape settlement(cover-up) cases!!!! Something is really wrong with this picture.

  • Becky

    (But Becky, didn’t you know, it’s more important to convert people than to feed them. ;)

    Comment by: OMGF | December 1, 2007, 10:25 pm )

    OMGF, Of course converting people is more important when the church gets richer with each new convert! The catholic church is one of the richest organizations in the world and also one of the most wicked. Deception is their stonghold and truth is buried alive. Try to imagine how many hungry people could be fed just with the hundreds of thousands of dollars the vatican has paid out in child rape settlement(cover-up) cases!!!! Something is really wrong with this picture.

  • Michelle

    Explain stigmata then. You guys certainly have a good laugh over incorruptible relics. Have at it.

    It never ceases to amaze me how agnosticism and aetheism, when confronted with evidence, makes a cajoling joke over it. Odd, but I don’t run to your websites discussing your views just to poke at them. In fact, I don’t care to even waste my time. Perhaps you might ask yourselves why the subject of religion consumes you to the rawest degree.

    As for the Church and its own corruption, that was foretold by Our Lady of Fatima to three little children. Had some of you done your homework on the history of the Church, you would have seen that the riches were planned by a vicious group intending to use the Church as nothing more then a cash cow. It was all foretold how evil would infiltrate the Church from within. That doesn’t make the primary principle of what the Church stands for bad. It just makes a good excuse for those who CHOOSE not to believe even easier, now doesn’t it?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Explain stigmata then. You guys certainly have a good laugh over incorruptible relics. Have at it.

    Gladly. Stigmata are the product of mentally disturbed or deceitful religious believers who intentionally injure themselves.

    Odd, but I don’t run to your websites discussing your views just to poke at them. In fact, I don’t care to even waste my time.

    It’s unfortunate that you think examining views different than your own is a waste of time. Not all of us share that attitude, however.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Explain stigmata then. You guys certainly have a good laugh over incorruptible relics. Have at it.

    Gladly. Stigmata are the product of mentally disturbed or deceitful religious believers who intentionally injure themselves.

    Odd, but I don’t run to your websites discussing your views just to poke at them. In fact, I don’t care to even waste my time.

    It’s unfortunate that you think examining views different than your own is a waste of time. Not all of us share that attitude, however.

  • lpetrich

    From The Great Pyramid in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science by Martin Gardner:

    Sir Flinders Petrie, a famous archeologist who made some highly exact Pyramid measurements, reports that he once caught a Pyramidologist secretly filing down a projecting stone to make it conform to one of his theories!

    Also, why is the Virgin Mary so cagey? Why does she skulk around as if she has something to hide? Why doesn’t she come out in the open? And make some special appearances for anti-Catholic bigots like Jack Chick, like:

    Jack, Jack, why are you persecuting me?

  • Micheal

    One “incorruptible” person is not decaying because their pious nature is so strong it permeates the skin. I think this answers many of the questions that some of the people commenting here have asked such as “If this were a true miracle from a true god, those bodies would look and feel as natural as the day they died.”. since its not God doing it than that would explain why these people arent completely free of decomposition.thing that many of you aetheists who critisize the argument that God is causing this phenomenon are forgetting one thing: there is more than one spiritual argument for the cause. Apparantly another possibility I read about is that the

    as for whether its real or not. I think the case of St. Bernadette Soubiros still makes a pretty strong argument. the key evidence is that the crucifix and rosary that was burried with her had oxidized when she was exhumed. I dont know if her casket was lead or not. if so that could make evidence for natural mummification. Furthermore their is also the many times when the “odor of sanctity” has been smelled when some of these saints were exhumed. I suppose its possible that some deceitfull believer could have dug up these bodys and sprayed them with a bottle of perfume moments before they were exhumed. but that doesnt seem very likely to me, considering how hard something like that would be to pull off.

  • Micheal

    One “incorruptible” person is not decaying because their pious nature is so strong it permeates the skin. I think this answers many of the questions that some of the people commenting here have asked such as “If this were a true miracle from a true god, those bodies would look and feel as natural as the day they died.”. since its not God doing it than that would explain why these people arent completely free of decomposition.thing that many of you aetheists who critisize the argument that God is causing this phenomenon are forgetting one thing: there is more than one spiritual argument for the cause. Apparantly another possibility I read about is that the

    as for whether its real or not. I think the case of St. Bernadette Soubiros still makes a pretty strong argument. the key evidence is that the crucifix and rosary that was burried with her had oxidized when she was exhumed. I dont know if her casket was lead or not. if so that could make evidence for natural mummification. Furthermore their is also the many times when the “odor of sanctity” has been smelled when some of these saints were exhumed. I suppose its possible that some deceitfull believer could have dug up these bodys and sprayed them with a bottle of perfume moments before they were exhumed. but that doesnt seem very likely to me, considering how hard something like that would be to pull off.

  • http://www.ateosmexicanos.com/portal/ Juan Felipe

    “Uno de los milagros más extraños del catálogo cristiano es el milagro de los santos incorruptos….”

    http://www.ateosmexicanos.com/portal/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=190:sobre-los-santos-incorruptos&catid=34:articulos&Itemid=54

  • Brendan

    I find it amusing that atheists often criticize the Church for not having evidence, proof or an explanation for the miracles, THATS WHY THEY’RE MIRACLES. What also fascinates me is how passionate Atheists get when arguing about religion, just look at this entire website made to criticize the Church, the person who wrote this essay obviously took time to write it. I have a question if you don’t believe in God why do you care? Are you looking for answers? Are you trying to convince yourself of something? You obviously care if you are writing essays and doing research. I’m not trying to make you believe God is real I’m just asking Why are you so passionate and why are you spending so much time on a god that is not real? Something must be driving you to find these answers. I’m just curious.

    And to whoever commented about how Catholics are not part of Christianity really needs to do some research, the Catholic Church was founded by the Apostles themselves, the ones who heard Jesus’s teachings first hand! Almost 90% of the major protestant sects agree that Catholicism is part of Christianity and also acknowledge the Pope as the rightful leader of the Church as a whole. The definition of a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus as the messiah and if you think that Catholics don’t fall under that category you really don’t understand what Christianity is.

  • Brendan

    I find it amusing that atheists often criticize the Church for not having evidence, proof or an explanation for the miracles, THATS WHY THEY’RE MIRACLES. What also fascinates me is how passionate Atheists get when arguing about religion, just look at this entire website made to criticize the Church, the person who wrote this essay obviously took time to write it. I have a question if you don’t believe in God why do you care? Are you looking for answers? Are you trying to convince yourself of something? You obviously care if you are writing essays and doing research. I’m not trying to make you believe God is real I’m just asking Why are you so passionate and why are you spending so much time on a god that is not real? Something must be driving you to find these answers. I’m just curious.

    And to whoever commented about how Catholics are not part of Christianity really needs to do some research, the Catholic Church was founded by the Apostles themselves, the ones who heard Jesus’s teachings first hand! Almost 90% of the major protestant sects agree that Catholicism is part of Christianity and also acknowledge the Pope as the rightful leader of the Church as a whole. The definition of a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus as the messiah and if you think that Catholics don’t fall under that category you really don’t understand what Christianity is.

  • Nes

    Brendan,

    Since he is obviously clairvoyant (or maybe he just gets asked this a lot), Ebonmuse already has a post to specifically answer the question of Why Do We Care?

  • lpetrich

    Brendan, I did some research on what some Protestant denominations state, and while they consider the Catholic Church a fellow Xian church, they don’t accept the authority of the Pope over them. In fact, the more fundie Protestants consider the Catholic Church fake Xianity, with Mary worship and being works-based and stuff like that.

    You also might want to read what Ebonmuse writes, so you can get an idea of what he’s talking about.

  • lpetrich

    Brendan, I did some research on what some Protestant denominations state, and while they consider the Catholic Church a fellow Xian church, they don’t accept the authority of the Pope over them. In fact, the more fundie Protestants consider the Catholic Church fake Xianity, with Mary worship and being works-based and stuff like that.

    You also might want to read what Ebonmuse writes, so you can get an idea of what he’s talking about.

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    Brendan,

    I find it amusing that atheists often criticize the Church for not having evidence, proof or an explanation for the miracles, THATS WHY THEY’RE MIRACLES.

    It’s so simple that even you can understand it. A miracle is by definition impossible. No amount of evidence would prove that something impossible had taken place. Only the gullible, the easily deceived, fall for that stuff. And the thing is, a god would know this. A god who wanted us to know him and believe in him wouldn’t bother with miracles, because such a god would understand that people are completely justified in not believing in them. A miracle is not evidence for god, it is evidence for human error.

    Just forget about the miracles.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    @Brendan:

    First, you might like to note that this post is over three years old.

    Second, miracles are magic is not an explanation. That’s an appeal to authority. It’s not persuasive and never was. The only people who like “explanations” like this are those who already believe you.

    Third, we care because dominionists and theocrats of all stripes are constantly trying to have their personal practices carved into the law for all to obey. We care because believers are constantly trying to convince of us to adopt views which have no evidence behind them, and that approach to the world has been shown in many other instances to lead to danger and madness. We care because the difference between truth and fiction is real and not a matter of personal opinion.

    This is merely scratching the surface; there are many other reasons. If you look around and read what atheists actually say, it’s not difficult to find their explanations.

  • Miles McCullough

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFMmzKDonRY

    Forget Jesus, the stars died for us, Brendan! The beauty of science is my favorite reason why people should refuse to commit the fallacy of faith, though there are many others as I was reminded when I looked over an old favorite recently:

    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/10/atheists-and-an.html

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    I have noticed a pattern among Christian trolls like Brendan — they drop a bit of lame apologetics on an old comment thread where they think it won’t be seen, then run off, never to be heard from again. It’s like if they do this 20 times, they get a merit badge or something. Sometimes I think I should first reply by saying, “I’ll answer your argument, but only if you promise to come back and at least show us that you’ve read it.”

  • Nomino

    1) Incorruptibility is not considered a miracle in Roman Catholicism nor proof of sanctity nor saintliness nor anthing at all. In fact, very evil persons have also been associated with incorruptibility.
    (2) Bernatte’s face is covered by a thin layer of wax. Her hands, I think, are wax. The arms having been removed for relics
    (3) Catholics/Orthodox were the first Christians. How long have “fundamentalists” been around – 200 years? Classical protestants – maybe 500 years or a lttle more? Also, unbiased historical studies of Jesus and the Bible have cast grave doubts on the notion that it is inerrant document. The only people who believe this do so beause they have a pre-existing faith.
    (4) In its earliest times, in Catholicism, the body of a holy person was not considered evil, nor death repugnant, and the presence of relics of bodies of saints and martyrs was thought to bring the believer closer to the deceased, and have been long associated with miracles. Disgust with the body of the dead is a modern phenomenon, a product of youth-oriented, sanitized, post-Christian culture.
    (5) Atheists are as ignorant of believers as believers are ignorant of atheists.
    (6) Belief in miracles is not required in Catholicism.
    (7) If the Church is really corrupt, then, if you are white, your ancestors are product of corruption. So is Western civilization. If you really think this, it would indeed be better for you to be an atheist.

  • Zeeshan Arshad

    You should look into the homepage of: http://www.rightfulreligion.com/

    According to our research on religions, whatever claims are made yet in some religions, they are not truly fresh. There is no Fresh Blood at all, and it’s done by using wax, chemicals, and whatever technique they do.

    However, we also found fresh dead bodies with fresh blood from Muslims Martyrs which are not in few quantity but in in millions. Many of them are having fresh blood since 1400 years. I personally met several eyewitness grave diggers from various cities during research who had seen those fresh dead bodies in their service life.

    Beside it, there have been many true events happened in public when thousand of people were present.

    You will find full detail on the homepage of given website.


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