A FRIEND recently confided that he’d discovered an uneaten McDonald’s meal of indeterminate age under the bed while decontaminating his disgusting hovel. This particular room had been subject to historic disregard – and perhaps somewhere deep within that dusty pit also lie the bones of Shergar and Lord Lucan. Pecked dry by the last surviving dodo.

Apparently this “happy meal” had festered under my pal’s stinking crypt for at least a year. It’s likely the clatty b***er even braved a bite – because, remarkably, this burger still looked exactly the same as it did on the day of purchase. If he had been inclined towards religious fervour, my friend may have chosen to place this “incorruptible” meat in a glass display case and pronounce it a miracle.

Although it is indeed miraculous that a happy meal’s free plastic toy may rot away before anything else in the box, there is little likelihood of any supernatural deity’s involvement. Neither was this burger made from some sort of magical “holy cow” – McDonald’s has admitted that each single pate is formed from the remains of around 100 doe-eyed bovine. That’s nearly a whole field – a super-value meal indeed if you get a thrill from counting how much death it’s taken to keep your belly full over the years.

So, if God wasn’t involved in this burger’s immortality, then what caused it? A recent US scientific study into fast food’s mysterious ambivalence to nature concluded that the key to its durable physicality wasn’t any Judeo-Christian sky spy, creepy chemical or powdered preservative – but simply a lack of moisture and specific atmospheric conditions.

This brings us smoothly segueing into religious perceptions of such “incorruptibility” – once a prominent, earnest and profitable subdivision of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox lore. This phenomenon was fuelled by the once popular practice of exhuming bodies to check if they had decayed in a “normal” manner. Signs of unnatural preservation were often believed to be the work of an interventionist God, justifying the macabre yet still popular practice of putting beef jerky on display in glass tombs. These exploited corpses are no sleeping beauties waiting on a kiss, however.


THE Roman Catholic Church has put hundreds of “incorruptible” corpses on public display, making up for this indignity by promoting these bodies’ previous owners to sainthood. Discovering these demigods often meant macabre Burke and Hare-style exhumations of individuals rumoured to have committed acts of miraculous endeavour. One day, Charles and Eddie of “Would I Lie To You?” fame may be dug up to check if Eddie’s glossy mane is still intact. Perhaps Charles will have retained the twinkle in his eye.

Yet, even if the soul-pop duo are found in good enough nick to perform their hit again, the Catholic Church of 2018 might not be interested – as incorruptibility is no longer a miracle. Even the Vatican authorities now admit that pious folk of past eras had clearly tried to help God along with the whole process. It seems many former Popes and saints currently rotting under the Vatican were subjected to the indignity of having oil and herbs inserted into their muscle cavities to aid preservation. Some were even dead at the time. Such saintly “incorruptibles” have even been reported to exude a sweet odour upon exhumation – yes, embalming fluids and exotic ointments can be particularly potent.

Historically, those thought to have performed miraculous deeds in life were quickly buried in multiple airtight caskets after death, such was the fervour for their inevitable sainthood. These were built of zinc and lead and kept above ground in crypts – environmental circumstances suspiciously favourable to preservation. They were later exhumed to much fanfare and fired into garish glass displays for the faithful to gawp at in holy reverence.

These bodies remained attached to their blackened skin and calcified muscle structure, but not their dignity. Now that the Vatican itself has denounced “incorruptibility” as evidence for sainthood, perhaps it’s time to end these voyeuristic horror shows once and for all. Such abused corpses have surely now earned the right to a dignified burial rather than simply serving as a grim public testament to less enlightened times.


THERE are countless natural processes which aid “incorruptibility” in those who did not benefit of from casual DIY mummification by the early Catholic Church. For instance, long before the 20th century’s cretinous, ruinous adherence to gluttony, most Europeans either died from starvation or disease. Wasting was also accelerated by religious penance. Such a grim death relieved bodies of the moist fat reserves that will accelerate the current generation’s decomposition, but more importantly, it also wipes out colonies of gut bacteria which largely propel putrefaction.

Truth, as always, is more interesting than the myth. The cyclical reality of death is so simple and beautiful that Elton John even sang a song about it, Circle of Life. Of course, the lyric about humans being so wonderfully recyclable didn’t make the final cut as nothing rhymed with biodisposable. The verse about how we disintegrate in a manner that saturates the soil with a wealth of life juices and minerals to seed new life in joyous abundance made the 12” remix though. Limited edition release in Slovakia.

With such wonder evident, corpse deification seems an insult to mother nature, denying her built-in reincarnation process simply to prolong the vampiric myth-making of monotheism. The humiliating afterlife of bodily preservation is surely only ever acceptable when natural conditions such as alkaline soil or ice have played their part.

Somewhat exotically, some human corpses have even been found “saponified” – buried in lime-enriched soil that converts body fat into hard soap. A clean death indeed. Others are preserved forever, ironically it may turn out, thanks to past eras of seismic climate change – such as the famous iceman Otzi of Bolzano. Otzi is the only guy on Earth cooler then the Fonz. And, remarkably, even older than Henry Winkler was when playing the alleged teenager.


FEW would deny there is clear historical – and present – precedent of society’s most powerful, privileged and influential echelons bending the mindsets of the masses to keep their illusion of hierarchic superiority flickering.

However, when it comes to the generations of the past passing off “incorruptible” corpses as the work of God, the benefit of the doubt might be warranted. Bodily decay is a complex and unpredictable process and was likely often misunderstood.

Still, folk then could surely have asked themselves a logical question as relevant then as it is now: if God is behind such preservation – and is, assumedly, all-powerful – then why do “incorruptibles” cover such a wide spectrum of decay? Why don’t they all stay as fresh as Ant McPartlin after a shave?

It’s likely folk always wondered the same thing. Using the Ant of their time as the analogy. Or perhaps their tongues were tied by the knowledge of what happened to Galileo and others for questioning God’s mysterious ways in public.

As science now understands, bodies don’t all decompose at the same rate. This fact has clearly led to seismic misunderstandings throughout history – and is the likely origin of all European vampire myths and Haitian zombie culture. We didn’t always fire folk underground then forget about them. Sometimes, we’d check to make sure they were still dead.

The fact that “incorruptible” corpses can now be rather easily explained leaves a greater mystery, however – the endurance of belief in the phenomenon. Perhaps the answer lies in how the Catholic Church continues to propagate the myth. In 1975, Monsignor Gianfranco Nolli, director of the Vatican’s Egyptian Museum, put together a team of mummification researchers to preserve all their popes, saints and “relics” – sacred body parts dating way back as far as the third century.

This team was also responsible for one of the Vatican’s top tourist attractions under the city: the body of John XXIII, who looks in fine nick despite dying in 1963. The airless glass coffin helps, but so do the realistic wax hands and death mask. More than 25,000 people visit St Peter’s Basilica to see him every day, and many of these faithful servants truly believe the beautific state of his body is a miracle. Understandably, the church is hesitant to clarify the truth that he’d be better suited to Madame Tussauds.

Ironically, only one of the specialist embalming team which treated Pope John and countless other “holy” corpses is still alive. The others tragically succumbed to various cancers, with side-effects of toxic chemicals they worked with during their macabre efforts immortalising the dead speculated to be responsible.

The most famous instance of incorruptibility, which many believe to be the real McCoy, is that of Bernadette Soubirous who died in 1879. She’s the one responsible for a booming tourist economy in Lourdes – five million people a year – after claiming she was visited by the Virgin Mary. In death, Bernadette’s body was exhumed three times – but kept above ground after the third and final indignity before being “treated” and placed inside, yes, an airtight glass tomb. It couldn’t have worked very well as what most people think of as the word’s more remarkably life-like corpse is actually, like John XXIII, a wax cocoon – the real Bernadette lies festering somewhere inside. Perhaps she should join John in Madame Tussauds. It certainly couldn’t be any less garish a display than the gold and crystal reliquary in the Chapel of Saint Bernadette where she currently resides, her vulgar afterlife helping maintain the hypnotic spell enslaving the faithful. And, of course, keeping the coffers full.