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One of the most fascinating phenomena in the Catholic faith is the presence of incorrupt saints — corpses that have defied nature by failing to decompose, either in whole or in part. Many of these bodies, exposed to the elements, have been kept remarkably preserved for decades, even centuries, and remain an enigma to modern science.
Compare them to the typical stages of decomposition of the average corpse:
Heat can speed up this process, while cold can slow it down, but not by much.
Thus, in normal cases, putrefaction takes place within a month of the person's death; incorruptible saints continue to be preserved, exposed to the elements, centuries after death. Embalming, bog bodies preserved from peat or mummies cannot explain what happens to incorruptibles.
For instance, St. Bernadette Soubirous, the girl to whom Our Lady of Lourdes appeared in the Grotto of Massabielle, lies preserved in the convent of Nevers, where she passed away from tuberculosis in 1879.
As part of her process for sainthood, her body was exhumed three times — in 1909, 1919 and 1925 — in the presence of a number of canons, the mayor and the bishop, all who witnessed the state of her body. The doctor noted, "The skin has disappeared in some places, but it is still present on most parts of the body."
Owing to a blackish tint to her skin, a thin wax mask was created for her face and hands. Even so, the wax does not explain why the regular process of putrefaction has kept her body from decomposing into bare skeleton after more than 100 years.
Saint Catherine Labouré, to whom was given the mission of propagating the Miraculous Medal, was given the singular grace of laying her head upon Our Lady's lap during a visitation. Saint Catherine passed away in 1876, and her body is kept in the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal in Paris, France. Visitors can peer through the glass coffin into her striking blue eyes, wide open, while her hands (reconstructions) are upright in the attitude of prayer.
Watch the panel discuss the unexplained in The Download—Responding to Atheists.