The "Incorruptible" Corpse of Saint Bernadette

A picture of Saint Bernadette
as a child.
The corpse of Saint Bernadette is currently on display at the Church of St. Gildard in the Nevers, France convent where Bernadette was a nun. It is in a crystal coffin, through which visitors can gaze upon her body. In photos, the saint’s “incorruptible” body appears as if it is relaxed in sleep, when in reality, it has been lifeless for more than 130 years. The supposedly incorruptible nature of her corpse, coupled with certain events in her life, has led to her canonization. The following is a look at the life of Saint Bernadette and the body she left behind.

Saint Bernadette was born Bernadette Soubirous on January 7, 1844. Her family was poor and so she led a simple life. People described her as polite and kind, but not very bright and often ill.

On February 11, 1858, Bernadette’s life changed forever when she said she saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Over the course of the next two weeks she saw the Virgin Mary at a grotto in Lourdes seventeen more times. She claimed Mary told her a secret. She also supposedly found a spring under the direction of the Virgin Mary. Years later, Bernadette joined a convent and began the rest of her life.

Saint Bernadette remained sickly throughout her life. She died at the Nevers convent on April 16, 1879. She was thirty-five-years old. The members of the convent gave her a traditional burial and her body remained at rest for the next thirty years. Her corpse was exhumed in September of 1909 when the investigation into her proposed sainthood began. The coffin was opened in front of several eyewitnesses, all of whom say that the body was in exceptionally good condition. The Catholic church can require that a body be “incorruptible” for the previous occupant of that body to be considered a saint. That is really impossible, but there is no denying that Bernadette’s body was unusually preserved. However, that is possible for anyone, under the right conditions.

After the first exhumation, Saint Bernadette’s rigor mortised and slowly blackening corpse was washed and placed in a new coffin. Her body was reinterred, only to be exhumed again in 1919. During the second inspection, it was noted that some mildew was growing on the skin of Bernadette’s corpse. Also, a layer of salt had accumulated since the last exhumation and the blackening of her skin had continued. Some partial bones, and muscle from her thighs, were removed then for inspection and she was reburied.

In 1925, Saint Bernadette’s body was removed one last time. This time, a wax mask was made to cover her face, so that the changes in her features and skin tone would not repulse visitors. She was then placed into her crystal coffin and put on display where she is today. She was canonized in 1933, under Pope Pius XI. Her so-called incorruptible body played a role in this. However, it is rather obvious that her body has deteriorated over the past century. It has just done so at a slow rate, which can probably be attributed to the conditions in her various coffins.


Biography of Bernadette Soubirous, retrieved 2/28/10,

The Body of St. Bernadette, retrieved 2/28/10,