Nuns body found intact
Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the founder of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, died on May 29, 2019, aged 95 | Image courtesy:

Nun’s body, buried in cracked coffin without embalming, found intact 4 years later

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The discovery of a nun’s body, seemingly without any signs of decomposition four years after her death, has created quite a sensation in a small Missouri town, with hundreds of people from across the US pouring in for a glimpse. The faithful are reportedly hailing the incident as a “miracle”.

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the founder of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, reportedly died on May 29, 2019, aged 95. The monastery is in Gower, about an hour from Kansas City.

Why the body was exhumed

According to the Catholic News Agency, Lancaster’s body was exhumed on May 18 to be moved to its final resting place in a monastery chapel. One of the sisters of the monastery told Newsweek that the cemetery personnel told them to expect “just bones” since Lancaster had been buried without embalming, in a normal wood coffin. Some media reports claimed even the coffin was cracked.

However, when the coffin was opened, the sisters and exhumers were astonished to find the body and her habit quite intact, with almost no signs of decay. There was a layer of mould on the body, which likely happened because the crack in the coffin led to condensation inside, reported the Catholic News Agency.

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Sign of a saint?

In Catholicism, bodies that defy putrefaction are called “incorrupt” — a sign of holiness and justified for sainthood. However, Bishop Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph has said in a statement that the process for sainthood has not been started for Lancaster.

According to the Catholic News Agency, more than a hundred bodies have been found to be incorrupt so far. But Lancaster is likely the first African American nun to be found in this state, the Catholic News Agency quoted Mother Cecilia, the abbess for the monastery, as saying. She was the first person to examine the coffin.

She told the agency that the skeletal remains, which should have weighed about 20 pounds, seemed to weigh between 80 and 90 pounds. “Her eyelashes, hair, eyebrows, nose and lips were all present, her mouth just about to smile,” a sister told Newsweek.

Unnatural or not?

However, media reports quoted experts as saying that bodies sometimes do remain well-preserved in the first few years after death, even without being embalmed. A forensic expert told CNN that “there are many famous cases of well-preserved human remains”. It can happen, for instance, in environments with low oxygen that restrict bacterial growth and access to the body to scavengers.

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However, as the news spread on social media, hundreds started travelling to Missouri to see, as one of them put it, “the hand of God at work”.

Lancaster’s body will be on display till May 29. After that, it will be encased in glass in the chapel, where visitors can continue to view it, says the monastery website.

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