Imperishable remains of saints: how is it possible?

In various parts of the world one can find churches in which incorruptible remains of saints are displayed. Some of them have already begun to decompose, but there are some that, even centuries after death, continue to resist the destructive forces of nature. How do human remains become imperishable?


One of the techniques by which dead bodies can be preserved from decomposition is embalming. The method was invented by the ancient Egyptians, and it involves removing a person’s internal organs and filling the body cavity with herbs and other natural materials that prevent decomposition. The body is then impregnated with special oils and tightly wrapped in linen cloth. The embalmed remains of the rulers of the early Egyptian dynasties can be seen in excellent condition in many museums of the world thousands of years after their death.

In modern history the most famous case of the preservation of remains is certainly the embalming of Lenin’s body, which was carried out in 1924 by B. Zbarsky and V. Vorobyov.

But there is also a unique method of mummification developed by the German anatomist Gunther von Hagens, the so-called plastination. The method consists in replacing all fluids in the corpse with various polymers – latex, special rubbers, polyester. The process is divided into several stages: the body is first frozen, then placed in a vacuum, and finally in a bath with a special solution. The final result exceeds all expectations. Since 1996, there have been exhibitions all over the world – of the doctor’s work. These are dead bodies that have been mummified and put on display.

The Natural Way

But incorruptible remains can also arise naturally. In 1984, the remains of three British sailors were discovered on the Arctic coast of Canada – they looked as if they were alive, although they died more than 150 years ago. Scientists have concluded that – the culprits – the excellent preservation of the body – low temperatures and cold winds.

But while mummified bodies are characterized by dead stiffness, rigor mortis, incorruptible bodies retain flexibility and malleability. Even years after death, their skin is soft, and it seems that these people have just died or even are just sleeping. Scientists attribute this phenomenon to a chemical process, saponification, in which fat cells are transformed into a substance somewhat resembling soap, and the flesh retains a fairly fresh appearance for a long time.

An example of this phenomenon is St. Catherine of Bologna, who died in 1463. A few weeks later they decided to rebury her, dug her up, and saw that her body was untouched by decomposition. Since 1500 (!), the remains have been on public display and have not changed at all: the woman sits in a chair framed by candles in the chapel of the Poor Clarisse (the Catholic sisterhood she patronized) in Bologna. Although her skin is already brown and wrinkled, the beautiful condition of her body is a mystery to science.


The imperishable remains of saints are an amazing phenomenon that has not yet received an unequivocal explanation. However, there are several techniques that can help keep dead bodies from decomposing. Embalming, plastination and the natural way can all lead to imperishable remains. But even scientists have not yet been able to fully solve all the mysteries of this phenomenon.

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