Crowds of visitors travel to Missouri to see and touch nun’s undecaying corpse | US News

A nun whose body has barely decomposed since her death unwittingly drew hundreds of people to her burial site in a small US town.

People from across the United States traveled to Gower, Missouri, to witness the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, which was unexpectedly found intact after it was exhumed in April by nuns of the Benedictine order of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

Visitors were able to see and touch his freshly decomposed corpse from his burial in 2019.

They were also allowed to take a teaspoon of dirt from his grave.

Sister Lancaster, founder of the order, was buried four years ago without any embalming – the act of preserving a corpse by treating it with chemicals – in a simple wooden coffin.

She was exhumed by the convent in preparation for the installation of a new shrine which would involve her “reinterment” and was discovered in “perfectly preserved religious habit,” according to the convent’s statement.

About 1,800 people flocked to the city after a private email mentioning the news was mistakenly made public, and “news began to spread like wildfire.”

People wait to see the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster at the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles Pic:AP
Nearly 2,000 people flocked to the small town. photo: AP

A visitor from Kansas City, Missouri, Samuel Dawson visited the site and described it as “very peaceful” and “very reverent”.

Mr Dawson, who is a Catholic, said the nuns allowed visitors to touch Sister Lancaster because they “wanted to make her accessible to the public, because in real life she was always accessible to people”.

The phenomenon has been described by some as a Catholic mark of holiness, although scientific explanations for the lack of decay have also been offered.

People collect dirt from Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster's grave at the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles Pic:AP
photo: AP

The Kansas City-St Joseph Diocese said, “The condition of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster’s remains has understandably generated widespread interest and raised important questions.

“At the same time, it is important to protect the integrity of Sister Wilhelmina’s mortal remains to allow for a thorough investigation.”

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Below is a picture of the nun’s body from afar.

People pray over the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster at the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles Pic:AP
photo: AP

The cause of holiness due to the “incorruptibility” of the body — a belief in avoiding decomposition as a sign of holiness — “had not yet begun,” the diocese added.

This was confirmed by the Benedictines who said that Sister Lancaster had not yet reached the required minimum of five years from her death to begin the process of sanctification.

Meanwhile, Rebecca George, an anthropology tutor at Western Carolina University, said lack of body decomposition might not be all that rare.

He said the coffins and clothing help preserve the bodies.

He added: “Generally, when we bury people, we don’t exhume them. We don’t get to look at them in a couple of years.”

“With 100 years, there might be nothing left. But when you’re only a few years old, that’s not unexpected.”

The monastery will place the corpse in a glass shrine in the church, where visitors can still see it and collect dirt from its grave, but not touch it.


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