Why are incorruptible saints put on display?

Isn’t it disrespectful to remove bodies from the ground and put them on display?

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Not necessarily. Plus, that’s a rather newer concept.

In ancient times, people were laid to rest in crypts. Public crypts if poor, family crypts if rich. The dead were covered in a burial clothes and laid down in the crypt. If/when they turned to dust, their spot was used for someone else. If their bones remained, sometimes they were moved.

There are even an entire crypt chapels made from bones from the dead laid to rest inside a general crypt.


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No, their entire body (or what is left of it, as not every saint “on display” is incorruptible) is a relic. As long as the body is respectfully treated and put in an appropriate place like a church or shrine, there is no requirement that it be in the ground.

As the other person said, bodies are routinely removed from graves in Europe due to lack of space. The only reason they are not removed in North America is we still have a lot of space.


I think it’s creepy, and I would cross the street to look at one.

(I don’t do relics, either, but that’s a subject for another discussion.)


It’s only disrespectful if they’re treated disrespectfully.

It stands to reason that God might make someone’s body incorrupt for our benefit, as a testament to the holiness of the individual and as a finger pointing to them as worthy intercessors for our causes. With that being the case, what sense would there be in “hiding them” when their incorruptibility is for us?


Thanks for the explanations, that makes sense!

Don’t go see St. Catherine of Bologna then. Just sayin’.

Let us ponder for a moment why the Lord would preserve them incorrupt.

“One does not light a lamp and place it under a bushel basket. Rather, one hangs it on a lampstand so that all may see”


A fair number of pictures of “incorrupt” saints of whom I’ve seen pictures seem to have faces and hands - everything about them that is visible - covered by wax masks and wax coverings. One “incorrupt” pope, Pius X
I believe - has a silver mask. It causes me to wonder what the definition of “incorrupt” is if such coverings are necessary.


Exactly - most of them are at least partly decomposed. For me, it’s a reminder that God worked in that persons life and we are looking at them so it’s a link between me and God.

I think it is just the fact that the body didn’t decompose or is decomposing at an extraordinarily slow rate. I think the degree of preservation varies, but probably none of them look exactly the same as the day they died.

From an American cultural context, it would seem this way, but our culture is just one of many in the world. Display of relics has been part of Catholicism for many centuries.

It would take a massive cultural shift for this ever to happen. In fact, the whole culture of death, and all of the sensibilities surrounding it, would have to change entirely. I have a hard time imagining an America, even in hundreds of years, where this could be seen as acceptable. Everyone would simply resort to cremation first, where space considerations are minimal.

I would be content simply to return to nature, in nature’s way, with no preservation whatsoever, but family sensibilities prevent me from making such provisions. I have been known to have counter-cultural opinions from time to time.

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The masks have become “necessary”. They weren’t so at the time it was discovered that the individual was incorrupt.

It also stands to reason that we would want to preserve the bodies of the saints using what means we can. The Declaration of Independence is, from what I understand, kept in a temperature controlled container with humidified helium in order to preserve it. If we take such care to care for historic documents, why not human bodies?

I would be curious to know if there are any cases of non-saints whose unembalmed bodies are incorrupt. If there are, then I would discount the intervention of God, and I would look for a combination of other curcumstances.


This is a really good question. I have always been curious about why this is done. I have seen some really creepy pictures, like St. Catherine of Bologna.

I read on Wikipedia that incorruption used to be a requirement for becoming a saint until some bodies of people that lived particularly detestable lives were found.

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But, if you go seeking after purely natural causes, then the entire faith is man-made. Is that your belief?

It’s a moot point because incorruption is not given weight in the current sainthood canonization process. We have saints who totally decayed in the grave, saints who were incorrupt when first exhumed but began to decay later, and saints who had some normal type of decay leaving just bones that were preserved. So being incorruptible with the odor of sanctity (roses) is kind of “Wow, cool” but doesn’t mean much in the overall scheme of canonization. The Church is unlikely to get deep into scientific investigations or start exhuming other bodies for comparison. Plus, it’s perfectly possible that God could take some non-Catholic to heaven and leave them with an incorrupt body because he knows their heart.

See Tis Bearself’s response, #18.


Non responsive. Are not all things possible to God?
An hour well spent:

The fact that I am here is one of the miracles of Lourdes. And no, I do not meet the criteria for a certified miracle - only that my recovery from three cancers began in Lourdes before I had cancer.

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