Question on incorruptibles

Is it the Catholic Church that actually declares a saint to be incorruptible, or is that left up to the individual to decide ?


Dear CreekCrawler,

Could you clarify your question? My understanding of incorruptible is when a saint’s body is exhumed, their body is found to be without decay e.g St. Catherine of Siena. But there again, I could be misunderstanding your question (I’m not the brightest bunny in the box).

What I mean is, does the Church make an authoritative dicision on a body being incorruptible… or does the Church itself stay out of it ?

Thanks for the clarification. Sorry but I will have to hope that someone who knows more about the subject will be able to give you an answer as I do not know what the process is before a saint’s body (or part of it) is declared incorruptible.

I may be wrong, but isn’t there a difference between a formal declaration of incorruptability, and a finding that such an incorruptible state is actually a miracle? It just seems that, without it being any reflection on the individual’s life, there can be many natural explanations for a relative lack of decomposition.

Anyone ?

As it looks like this interesting question hasn’t gone anywhere yet and bearing in mind this is a new topic for me, I did a bit of research. Here are two links to start with, that may help (I admit I only scan read them as it is bedtime over here in the UK):

  1. Roman Catholic Saints and Heroes! -

  2. - you will need to scroll down a little.

There seems to be some controversy and conspiracy theories on the subject, but that is par for the course on anything Catholic.

Good night.

Wouldnt that be pretty self evident? If a body doesnt decay, its incorruptible. If it does decay, then its not. :shrug:

I don’t think the Church concerns itself with this topic anymore. It is used to be a requirement to be a saint centuries ago but not anymore. I think the Church believes it is a possible miracle for a saint but allows for scientific explanations as well. Thus it is an unreliable metric for sainthood. The Church looks to more verifiable miracles, such as a person miraculously cured of terminal illness through the saint’s intercessions (must be well documented).

You would think so… but I have seen lots of ‘examples’ of incorruptible saints, that have quite obviously decayed.

Are you saying the Church made errors in declaring people saints in the past?

So have I, although the only explanation I can think of is any other normal person would have decayed much faster and would have been reduced to a pile of bones whereas the incorruptibles, even if blemished a little, have not.

I would be interested to hear more of this myself.

St. Zita was found to be incorruptible when her body was exhumed in 1580, and she was cannonized in 1698 but well…(WARNING: Some may find this image distressing) You can clearly see she’s decayed since, and has since been mummified.

I’m led to understand St Bernadette corpse has suffered a similar fate. She too is on display but her face now bears a wax mask due to some discoloration of her face due to a wash of the body done by nuns since her death.

Perhaps Incorruptibility is only a temporary state, I truly do not know enough on the matter but I am keen to hear any official information regarding it.

Just to clarify, incorruptible saints in the context of the question are those saints whose physical bodies (completely or partly) have not decayed. In the second link on my earlier post it says “No one knows why some Saints are preserved from corruption while others aren’t, and incorruptibility is never seen, in itself and by itself, as a proof of holiness. It is a good indicator of such when the deceased was known for his life of faith and virtue – but it’s a phenomenon that can be mimicked by science, by the effects of natural conditions, and by the demonic.” Hope this clarifies things?

May God bless you.

I have to highlight this section because I find this troubling. Though it may be not so now incorruptibility was once a standard by which a saint could be identified. If fell powers can preserve a corpse how are we to know that saint in question is genuine and not a bad individual preserved to confuse Christians, draw false reverence and mock the true saints?

My understanding is that an incorruptible body is not the sole reason for a person being declared or considered an incorruptible saint. The Church looks for evidence in the person’s lives such as being used as instruments of God, such evidence could be the gifts they used to build up the Church, save sinners, heal etc. We would know about the gifts through the writings of the saints and/or others who knew them. Everything would be tested against the Bible and teachings of the Church. Through God’s will and grace only one or two out of hundreds of thousands of saints are canonized by the Church as inspirational and to me, they seem to be the journeys of faith that strengthen, heal or teach others long after the person has departed Home.

Naturally I stand ready to be corrected as this is my view thus far in the discussion.

I think that is possible. I don’t remember specifics, but I do know there were some saints from the early Church that were later found to be more legends than actual saints. Did the Church make an error in putting that name down as a saint? Maybe. I don’t think the Church is infallible in all ways. If that were the case, the error of taking money for indulgences would never have happened.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit