Dead people on display

 Italy Assisi-Santa-Chiara-Pictures Slides Img 5569C
Not to jump into the territory that our prestigious guests Josh and Dylan cover so well at Atlas Obscura, but a friend just pointed me to Sacred Destinations' guide to "The Dead On Display." It's a fine survey of mummy museums, long-dead saints and their body parts, and, er, Jeremy Bentham and Lenin. Above, the body of St. Clare (d. 1253) in Assisi, Italy. Of course, for even more on this matter I heartily recommend Anneli Rufus's classic book Magnificent Corpses: Searching Through Europe for St. Peter's Head, St. Claire's Heart, St. Stephen's Hand, and Other Saints' Relics. From Sacred Destinations:
Incorrupt Saints on Display

* St. Andrew Bobola
Church of St. Andrew Bobola, Warsaw, Poland
Died in 1657, discovered incorrupt 1697.

* St. Bernadette Soubirous
Convent of St. Gildard, Nevers, France
The visionary of Lourdes, died 1879. Surely the most beautiful corpse you'll ever see (with some help from wax).

* Mother Cabriani> Mother Cabrini High School Chapel, New York City, USA
Italian-born nun, died in Chicago 1917.

* St. Catherine Labouré
Chapel, Rue du Bac, Paris, France
A Mary visionary, exhumed after 56 years.

* St. Catherine of Bologna Died 1463, has been on display in an upright position for over 500 years.
The Dead On Display (Thanks, Michael-Anne Rauback!)


  1. These are fascinating to stumble on — visiting some little church in some little town, and finding one of these. I’ve found quite a few in my travels.

    Thanks, by the way, for the recent wave of very cool things that exist in our world — the whistling island, the stick insects, the ostrich people — stuff I’ve never heard of before, but am so keen to read more about.

    You’ve excelled at wonderful things of late.

  2. apparently Anon @ #4 hasn’t spent much time in Europe — there are plenty of mummified saints all across the continent. There are a couple in the main church in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, too — doubly amazing, given the heat and humidity that they’re subjected to.

    They don’t look like they’re going to get up and dance any time soon, but it’s pretty mindblowing how good the condition of a four- or five-hundred-year-old body can be.

    it’s also kinda mindblowing how much care has been taken to dress them and lay them on finely-embroidered cloths. Pillows, too!

  3. For the record, are we talking about the philosopher Jeremy Bentham or the alias that John Locke used in season 5 of “Lost?” Because the power of the island is clearly the reason why the latter’s corpse didn’t rot.

  4. Don’t forget those on-display waxed commie corpses, Mao and Lenin:

    I see from the link that Messrs. Ho Chi Minh , Joe Stalin and Kim Il-Jung also make this list.

    I tells ya, this waxed commie corpse stuff is a close cousin to this , well, particular ‘type’ of religious practice.

    Relics, but in another context, eh?

  5. I’ve seen Ho Chi Minh. He seems to actually be real and not wax, though it’s not like you get time to linger in front of his casket, so it’s hard to be certain. Thing is, they broke his will by embalming him like that, he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered across the hills of Vietnam.

  6. Sorry about the ambiguity above – I meant that the corpse is sealed in wax, not that the displayed corpse is fake, or unreal.

  7. Well, the speculation is that Mao and Lenin are just wax now–that somewhere along the line, they got switched out with fakes.

  8. St. John of San Francisco in California. Don’t forget the greatest American Saint! On display with no wax or castings or masks.

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