In 1932, at Brive, it has been decided that the oldest part of the cemetery is to be destroyed.  Under the stones worn down by humidity and mould, only a few bones reduced to dust are being found.

Suddenly, the workers cry out…  In a tomb, over one hundred years old, they have just exposed the integrally conserved body of a very young girl.  The skin is fresh, the members supple, and she appears to smile in her white dress.

Is this a forgotten saint?

Some research is done, and it is learnt that she is quite an ordinary young girl, who had died more than a century ago.

With the permission of the authorities, another tomb is raised for her.  And since then, she continues her strange deathly sleep which defies death.

***

The body of Claudine de Montjoie (known as Saint Claudine) who died in 1620 at the age of 18, is still mysteriously conserved.

Even closer to us, in 1959 in Milano, when the body of the great Italian poet Manzoni, who died in 1873, is examined, it is discovered to be absolutely intact.  All those who look at it are overwhelmed by his face of extraordinary purety.

The incorruptible remains of Manzoni, the immortal author of the Fiances, are exhibited for a few hours in a glass coffin, for the opening of the world congress on Romanticism, both a well-chosen occasion and a symbol…

Therefore, we could say that it sometimes happens that saints, religious minds, young girls or poets can vanquish death for centuries in the mystery of their tombs.  The thing that connects them is mysticism, or poetic exaltation, which can also even appear, in the absence of any written work, in young, pure beings…

***

Reality obliges us to revise this judgement.

Some cadavers have been found in this state, after having been dead for several thousands of years.

In 1973, in the Hunan province, the body of a fifty-year-old woman, who had died in the IInd Century before our era, was found.

The description made of the cadaver’s state by the Professors of the Institute of Medicine in Hunan totally corresponds to those established by the Professors who had dealt with the case of Father Chabrel.

We are completely ignorant of who this woman could be, and the criteria for incorruptibility evoked above cannot apply to her…  Without them being excluded, however.

***

In Palermo, in the famous Capucin Crypt where thousands of intact bodies repose, certain cadavers appear to smile at the visitors. The particularly dry air in these catacombs seems to be at the origin of the phenomenon.

A journalist from the Nouvelles Caledoniennes investigated a mysterious affair in March 1977.

“An absolutely prodigious phenomenon has recently been discovered in the Noumea cemetery during an exhumation.

“It was on Wednesday 9 March at 2 p.m.  To make room in a tomb, the funeral enterprise of the place was proceeding with the opening of the coffins to remove the bones and place them in a box of small dimensions, which leaves more space for future inhumations.

“To conform with the Law, some family members – Mr and Mme Lesaint, from Ouemo – and some police representatives were present at the operations, as well as Mr Honore, undertaker in tombs  The transfer of the bones had been taking place in a perfectly normal fashion when the moment came to open the leaded coffin of Mr Theophile Lestelle.  As soon as the lid was taken off, the people present started in stupefaction;  not one bone!  Instead, a body in an excellent state of conservation, dressed in the suit with which it had been dressed for burial.  And then, an odour.  A curious odour, rather disagreeable.

“Fascinated, the witnesses observed the cadaver.  The hair was all there, the body, in a perfect state of conservation, seemed to have dried in a certain measure, the shroud was just a bit yellowed, as well as the cushion on which the defunct’s head rested.

“These details were given to us by Mr Lesaint himself.  Quite shaken by such a sight, Mr Lesaint was, however,  able to remain calm.  Mme Lesaint was also able to control herself, but that same evening, her nerves having been too sorely tried, a doctor had to be called to administer a tranquillizer to her.  It is true that it was enough to make one feel that one’s reason was in jeopardy for a moment, seeing such a mystery:  Mr Theophile Lestelle died and was buried forty years ago on 10 July 1937 exactly.  He was a master tailor in the Army and had succumbed following a long illness.

“We have said that the shroud was just a bit yellowed.  The cotton material had kept all its solidity, to the point that it sufficed to take it by its four corners to lift the body, which was then placed inside a new coffin.

“One of the Directors of the Funeral Parlour was present at the exhumation.  Extremely astonished by the cadaver which had not decomposed, he told us that he had ‘never seen a similar case over the whole of his professional life’.  Normally, after three years, sometimes four at maximum, only bones were found, all the rest had disappeared.  Same reaction from Mr Honore who was also present, and who is undertaker in tombs since 1925.  In fifty-two years in the profession, this man has never seen such a thing!

“The mystery remains complete.  Of course, here and there in the world, a few rare, identical phenomena have been cited, but they are so exceptional that they have always struck the imagination of the crowds, like each time that the laws of Nature, for unknown reasons, do not follow the paths that they have traced over the ages.”

We share this journalist’s perplexity, even more willingly in that, in this case – the investigation confirmed it – he was a man having lived quite an ordinary life.  We have in fact no satisfactory explanation for these strange phenomena.

The more Science progresses – as Koestler says -, the more we realize that we know less and less about more and more things…

***

To be continued.

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