11 Major Religious Figures Whose Corpses Never Decayed

Most of us can agree that the concept of eternal life/dwelling forever in some species of paradise sounds appealing. However, not many people think of the physical body, itself, as being death-proof - which is why the image of the "incorruptible" saint is so enduringly fascinating. For centuries, the Catholic church (and some Buddhist temples, as well) have housed the remains of icons who are supposedly immune to decomposition and decay as we know it. The preservation and display of these bodies represents a holy tradition, even though incorruptibility is no longer considered a miracle by the Vatican.

"Incorruptibility," itself, is an increasingly fluid term that can encapsulate any number of definitions. A corpse that's initially uncannily preserved can start to decay with time, as bodies are wont to; or only certain parts of the mortal remains (like a heart or an isolated hand or limb, for example) may be left intact. In any and all cases, a saint, once canonized, is always a saint, whether their mummified remains are reposing amid splendid settings or they're little more than a bejeweled skeleton. Read on to find out more.

Dashi Dorzho Itigilov

Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov takes center stage as perhaps the most grotesque and interesting saint on this list. An esteemed Russian Buddhist monk, he's said to have passed away mid-chant in 1927. As he'd requested to be buried in whatever pose he ended up dying in, he was interred sitting upright, in the lotus position. 

In 1955, and again in 1973, he was exhumed and found to be uncorrupt. He was unearthed a third (and, it's said, final time) in 2002, and his body was found to be "in the condition of someone who had died 36 hours ago."  
Itigilov's remains reside in Ivolginsky Datsan, a Buddhist temple in Russia. They are said to sit outdoors, under a tree, and one can easily envision observers, taking a casual stroll along an idyllic garden path, doing a startled double-take as they come upon him.

Rosalia Lombardo

Rosalia Lombardo, one of the world's most enchanting (and poignant) corpses, is not officially recognized as a saint by the Church, but many devout believers consider her to be one. Even almost 100 years after her passing, her impeccably preserved mortal form evokes pathos, sympathy, and a sense of awe at her beauty.

Born in Palermo, Italy, in 1918, Rosalia died of pneumonia at age two, and her devastated father, unable to accept her death, commissioned "master" embalmer and taxidermist Alfredo Salafia to preserve her. With her wavy hair, perfect features, and porcelain skin, she still appears (more or less) as she did in life ... as long as you don't look too closely. (There's also reports that her eyes have occasionally opened, though that proposition seems dubious.)


MRI scans of Rosalia's form eerily resemble footage of alien autopsies, but, astonishingly, most of her organs are still intact. She rests in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo in Sicily, and her beauty and peaceful expression have led to her being popularly dubbed “Sleeping Beauty."

St. Victoria of Rome

St. Victoria of Rome is one of the church's most unnerving and sinister relics. In life, she was arrested and executed for her Catholic faith (a tragedy that's reflected by the red slash in her throat), and her uncorrupted body was installed in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

However, Victoria's golden curls, alabaster brow, and perfect features aren't what they seem to be.


This figure, one of the city's least known but most macabre sights, appears to be a statue. But closer inspection reveals something far more spine-chilling ... when you look into the slightly open mouth, you see through the open lips of a skeleton ... indeed, this is the body of the saint herself, very much "touched up" with wax, human hair, and clothing.

In other words, Victoria is an initially radiant figure who gradually deepens into a decaying ghoul, the longer you look at her - an image to inspire a thousand horror novels, if there ever was one.

St. Bernadette of Lourdes

St Bernadette of Lourdes, France, died in 1879, after supposedly witnessing 18 manifestations of the Virgin Mary. However, her path to sainthood was a long one: she wasn't canonized until 1933, and said process apparently required multiple episodes of disinternment. Her body was exhumed three separate times, in 1909, 1919, and finally in 1925 ... [she] was pronounced by the church as officially "incorrupt."

Ultimately, several of Bernadette's ribs were removed and shipped off to Rome as relics. The rest of her now reposes in the Chapel of Saint Gidard at the Sisters of Charity in Nevers, France.

However, officials still feared that the "'blackish color' of the saint's face might be off-putting to pilgrims." Hence, a "light wax mask" was installed; its porcelain composure now hides the patchy mildew beneath.

St. Inocencia

St. Inocencia's particularly dramatic and compelling story is akin to a Greek tragedy. According to legend, she was once a pious young girl who longed to convert to Christianity and experience her first Communion; when her non-believing father caught wind of it, he became enraged and beat her.


Inocencia nonetheless continued her religious studies in secret. When she confessed to her father that she'd chosen to continue with her mission despite his disapproval, he exploded into a full-on Shakespearean-bloodbath-level psychosis, and stabbed her to death.


Inocencia's earthly remains rest in the Cathedral of Guadalajara in Mexico. Her "uncorrupt" corpse, preserved in wax, appears to be flaking off bit by bit, but she's still been know to wink at the occasional onlooker.

St. Luigi Orione

Luigi Orione, one of the world's more contemporary saints (he died in 1940), is also one of its most grotesquely preserved ones. Widely beloved throughout his lifetime (he was a genuinely devoted humanitarian who worked tirelessly to help the poor), he was first exhumed in 1965 and found to be intact. His remains have been on display since 1980, and he was officially canonized in 2004.

St. Anna Maria Taigi 

Anna Maria Taigi, born in Italy in 1769, is the saint of housewives, mothers, and victims of spousal abuse ... the last because she essentially martyred herself to her abusive husband, whom The Catholic Exchange rather puzzlingly describes as "a pious man, but with a rough temper."

Anna Maria died on June 9, 1837, after a brief illness and a series of ecstatic visions. 31 years later, in 1868, her "body was exhumed and found to be uncorrupted."
Pope Benedict XV beatified her on May 30th of that year; she now lies in San Crisogono, Rome.
Padre Pio

Padre Pio, who died in 1968, is also a relatively contemporary saint. Born in 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy, he's said to have dedicated his life to God at the age of five. Though he was plagued by ill health for many years, he led an active life, and even served briefly as a medic during World War I.
Some years later, Padre Pio was apparently hearing confessions when "he noticed the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, appearing on his hands and feet... the wounds smelled of roses, and although they continued to weep, they never became infected."

Padre Pio was exhumed in 2008, 40 years after his death, and as found to be basically intact. According to the archbishop present at the exhumation, "the top part of the skull is partly skeletal, but the chin is perfect, and the rest of the body is well preserved." (He also observed that the saint's hands looked as if "they had just undergone a manicure"). 

Pope John Paul II canonized Pio in 2002, and his remains lie in Our Lady of Grace Chapel in southern Italy.
source: ranker