Hundreds of tourists are flocking to a monastery in a small Missouri town to see a Catholic nun’s exhumed body which was found still intact nearly four years after her death, Guardian reported.
According to the Catholic News Agency, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster died on May 29, 2019, at age 95, and was buried in a wooden coffin. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said she founded the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles order in 1995. Her body was exhumed on May 18, 2023, so it could be moved to its final resting place in a monastery chapel, a custom for founders.
Upon opening the coffin, the sisters were stunned to find that the exhumed body had no signs of decay. The body of the nun was covered in a layer of mold. Despite the dampness, little of her body disintegrated during the four years.
“We were told by cemetery personnel to expect just bones in the conditions, as Sister Wilhelmina was buried without embalming and in a simple wood coffin,” one of the sisters, who asked to be anonymous, told Newsweek.
“The dirt that fell in early on had pushed down on her facial features, especially the right eye, so we did place a wax mask over it. But her eyelashes, hair, eyebrows, nose, and lips were all present, her mouth just about to smile,” the sister added.
In Catholicism, a body that resists normal decay after death is considered incorrupt, and “incorruptible saints give witness to the truth of the resurrection of the body and the life that is to come,” according to the Catholic News Agency.
As the news spread, people began flocking to the nunnery to get a glimpse of her remains, with many calling it the ”miracle of Missouri”. A sign next to the body reads: “Please be gentle with touching sister’s body, especially her feet.”
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph issued a statement about the discovery.
”The condition of the remains of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster has understandably generated widespread interest and raised important questions,” the diocese said. ”At the same time, it is important to protect the integrity of the remains of Sister Wilhelmina to allow for a thorough investigation… Bishop [James] Johnston invites all the Faithful to continue praying during this time of investigation for God’s will.”’
Some experts have said it isn’t uncommon for bodies to remain well-preserved in the first few years after death.
Speaking to CNN, Western Carolina University Associate Professor and Director of Forensic Anthropology Nicholas V Passalacqua said, “It’s hard to say how common this is because bodies are rarely exhumed after burial. But there are many famous cases of well-preserved human remains. Not just things like Egyptian mummies which were intentionally preserved, but also things like the Bog Bodies of Europe which were very well preserved for thousands of years because they were in environments with low oxygen that restricted bacterial growth and access to the remains to scavengers.”
The body will be on display till May 29 after which it will be encased in glass in the chapel.