Excerpt from Exploring the Miraculous (OSV 2015) by Michael O'Neill
Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, there have been
reports of supposed miraclous preservations of the corpses of
the holy deceased. Many of these bodies were discovered by accident
and others have been unearthed during the Catholic rite of Recognition
in the canonization process.
Some of the bodies have been preserved through extraordinary
means of embalming and perfect environmental conditions. Other
bodies have been waxed over to preserve the features of a formerly
incorrupt corpse. The majority of corpses in question have survived
many years, in some cases several centuries, in a perfect state
only to inexplicably later decay at a normal rate. Other formerly
perfect corpses have browned and dried but still exist in an atypical
Despite all the doubts which arise concerning the veracity of
incorruptibility claims, the phenomenon still does not have a
satisfactory scientific explanation. Even if some portion of the
preservations are attributable to specialized mummification techniques,
other corpses which have received no special burial and have endured
translation between several different locations have survived
for many years in an unusual and surprising state of perfection.
Other corpses have been exposed to environments which would have
facilitated their decomposition have inexplicably survived the
test of time.
The number of incorruptible saints is estimated to be approximately
1% of all canonized persons. There have been surprisingly few
reports of incorruptible copses of non-Catholic persons.
The Catholic Church has been cautious in making definitive statements
about incorruptible discoveries but has used incorruptibilty as
one of the three requisite miracles for canonization.