The body of a sister who belonged to the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles order in Gower, Missouri was found to be almost perfectly intact after exhumation even though she had been buried without embalming.
People from all over the US have travelled to Gower, Missouri, to witness and touch the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster. They were also allowed to take a teaspoon of dirt from her grave.
Sister Lancaster, a founder of the order, was buried four years ago without any embalming - the act of preserving a corpse by treating it with chemicals - in a plain wooden coffin. She was exhumed by the monastery in preparation for a new shrine to be installed involving her "reinterment" and was discovered with "a perfectly preserved religious habit", according to the nunnery's statement.
The phenomenon has been described as a Catholic sign of holiness by some, though scientific explanations for the lack of decay have been offered too.
An anthropology Professor at the Western Carolina University said the body's lack of decomposition might not be that rare. She said that coffins and clothing help to preserve bodies. She added: "Typically, when we bury people, we don't exhume them. We don't get to look at them a couple years out. With 100 years, there might be nothing left. But when you've got just a few years out, this is not unexpected."
The case for sainthood due to the body's "incorruptibility" - a belief of staving off decomposition as a sign of holiness - had "not been initiated" yet, added the diocese.
This was confirmed by the Benedictines who said Sister Lancaster had not yet reached the required minimum of five years since death for the sainthood process to begin.