remarkably preserved state of the body of Pope John XXIII, who died
in 1963, is no miracle, the Vatican said on Sunday" stated
a March 25 Agence France Presse report.
the Vatican Information Service (VIS) never used the words "miraculous"
or "incorrupt" regarding the body of John XXIII. The VIS
headlined its March 27 story with greater caution: "Body of
Blessed John XXIII is Remarkably Well Preserved".
news followed on the heels of an official report by the Church released
in March stating that when the former pope's coffin was opened in
January 2001, officials found the pontiff's face to be unchanged
from at the time of his death.
was as if he died yesterday" said Virgilio Cardinal Noe, who
witnessed the opening of the Pontiff's tomb.
news sources reported that the body of John XXIII was "incorrupt".
recklessly treated it as a supernatural occurrence.
France Presse, however, reported that the Vatican dismissed any
suggestion that the state of preservation was the result of divine
intervention. "The body is well preserved which needs no comment
or hypotheses concerning supernatural causes," said Father
time ago, Pope John Paul II decided that the body of John XXIII
, which had previously lain in a Vatican crypt, should be reinterred
in St Peter's Basilica in Rome along with other popes to allow people
to pray at his tomb.
John XXIII's coffin was opened on January 16 ahead of his remains
being transferred to the Basilica. According to church rules, the
body of the former pope needed to be identified before his body
could be laid to rest on the holy site.
the secret operation to open and move the pope's coffin took a whole
day, as church officials had to remove the lid to a marble sarcophagus
before they were able to get to the pope's triple lined coffin.
reported that according to experts, the remarkable condition of
the pope's body, 37 years after his death, is not unusual.
more common than you might think. The body of the Holy Father was
well protected. Oxygen couldn't get into the coffin and any in there
would have been used up very quickly," explained Vincenzo Pascali,
from the University of Rome.
used materials like lead and zinc which oxidise and slow the decomposition
process," he added.
it all depends on how one defines "embalm", but there
appears to be conflicting reports on how the body of John XXIII
March 26 London Times, said that the Popes are not embalmed,
but their bodies are treated with formalin. Likewise, Zenit news
reported that when John XXIII died on June 3, 1963, "the technicians
of the Institute of Legal Medicine of Rome injected formaldehyde
into his body, to allow the body's exposition for the faithful,
before its burial. The practice has been applied to the Popes who
have died since the mid-20th century."
New York Daily News, however, in a March 29 article entitled, "Morticians
Explain Why Pope's Body is Preserved" quoted funeral experts
who said that the incident surrounding John XXIII "is the result
of first-class embalming and luck."
was embalmed right away, it was done by doctors, nothing but the
best, and he was placed in the perfect place, the Catacombs,"
said funeral director Joseph Watts of the Frank E. Campbell Funeral
Chapel, who handled John Cardinal O'Connor's burial last year.
the spokesman for the Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association,
and other experts said the preservation of the body was probably
the result of a number of factors.
embalming fluid was formaldehyde-based with other chemicals, "a
very solid preservative for him," Watts said. "He was
also in a triple-seal casket – a casket, an outer case, a nether
outer case of cypress wood – and that was in a marble crypt,"
said Watts, who has visited the tomb. "There was no water or
anything that could disintegrate [the body]."
inject chemical fluids to preserve the body, said the Daily News.
If the process is properly done, only airborne bacteria and molds
can attack an embalmed body.
experts explain that damp precipitates decay, and that dry air and
warm temperatures fight mold better than cold.
will cause a mold," said Dominick Dasaro of Metropolitan Funeral
Service in Manhattan, which ships worldwide and is an expert in
overseas and Italian embalming. "The catacomb area the Pope
is placed in, "said Dasaro, "is dry and tight," similar
to optimum conditions in the catacombs beneath St. Patrick's Cathedral.
the Catholic Church does not declare an occurrence miraculous until
every natural explanation is exhausted.
Vennari [send him mail] is
editor of the monthly journal, Catholic Family News.