Death imparts an irreversible finality that human beings have developed many ways of addressing. Rituals surrounding the end of life have been an inseparable part of human civilization, with traditions spanning centuries around the world. From the embalming practices of the ancient Egyptians, to the modern day interment of the deceased, people have devised many methods of preserving bodies and memories of loved ones and honored fallen. Indeed, memories are typically all that are left behind, while the empty human shell decays over time. But in some instances even that does not happen…
In seeming defiance of the natural process of decay, there are some bodies, called Incorruptibles, that seem to resist the ravages of time. Not only that, but typical hallmarks of death, such as rigor mortis, a change in pallor, breakdown of tissues, etc., do not affect these bodies. Typically, this phenomenon of incorruptibility is regarded by the Catholic church as a miraculous testament of that person’s religious devotion. Indeed, the number of holy men and women that have been reported as incorruptible seem to attest to this belief, though there have been some secular examples as well.
The bodies that exhibit this incorruptibility often demonstrate a defined group of characteristics, such as still remaining supple, possessing the coloration that they had in life, and giving off fluids and odors reported as sweet smelling, or floral in nature. In some extreme cases, miraculous episodes of healing were reported to be associated with the exudate from these incorruptible bodies, though science has yet to prove such phenomena are real.
From a skeptic perspective, it is entirely possible that the preservation seen in these instances is an example of an embalming method that was simply not acknowledged by ecumenical authorities. Although such lack of documentation may be to preserve the mystique surrounding such instances of miraculous incorruptibility, it still remains a clear example of the rituals behind the importance of how society deals with death as a whole.
It remains to be seen whether or not such preservation is the result of some natural form of embalming, as seen with bog people. In such instances, a confluence of environmental factors contribute to the preservation of the deceased, though no cases have been reported in which such natural embalming maintains a corpse with the level of detail observed in incorruptibles.
The traditions that human beings have created to deal with the inevitability of death range from the most solemn, to commemorate the passing of life, to the most celebratory, to pay homage to the life one has led, but the ultimate purpose of these rituals are to provide a context in which the fear of death and the unknown beyond it has been blunted and made a little less intimidating. Perhaps for this reason, witnessing bodies that seem to transcend the physical effects of dying is another way in which we can be made to fear death a little less, whether incorruptibility is divinely ordained or the result of meticulous human handling.