Thousands Travel to See Remains of Exhumed Nun Whose Body Seemingly Hasn't Decayed Since Her 2019 Death

"The condition of the remains of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster has understandably generated widespread interest," said the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph

<p>Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles</p> Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster

Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster

Warning: This story contains a graphic image.

Many travelers have been venturing to a rural Missouri town to see the remains of a nun who died four years ago, but whose body seemingly hasn't decayed.

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster of the Most Holy Rosary, OSB died on May 29, 2019 at age 95, according to Catholic Key Magazine and the Catholic News Agency (CNA).

Sisters from Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles Monastery in Gower, Missouri, recently decided to move Lancaster’s body into their monastery chapel, where they discovered her remains had barely decayed, per CNA.

Sister Wilhelmina’s body was not embalmed after her death, according to CNA. Additionally, the wooden coffin she was buried in reportedly had a crack in it that allowed moisture and dirt to get inside, and mold had started to grow.

“We were told by cemetery personnel to expect just bones,” one nun told Newsweek.

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In a May 22 press release, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said Sister Wilhelmina’s remains have “understandably generated widespread interest.”

“Incorruptibility has been verified in the past, but it is very rare,” the church added, using a term that refers to bodies that resist the normal decomposing process, a sign of holiness.

The sisters said the body was “in a remarkable preserved condition” and that “the ribbon, her crucifix, and rosary” that were buried with her “were all intact,” according to CNA’s report.

“They [sic] synthetic veil was perfectly intact, while the lining of the coffin, made of similar material, was completely deteriorated and gone,” the sisters added.

<p>Charlie Riedel/AP</p> Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster

Charlie Riedel/AP

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster

Still, not everybody remains convinced this is particularly unusual.

“In general, when we bury a body at our human decomposition facility, we expect it will take roughly five years for the body to become skeletonized,” Nicholas Passalacqua, an associate professor and director of forensic anthropology, told Newsweek.

“Typically, when we bury people, we don’t exhume them. We don’t get to look at them a couple years out,” Rebecca George, an anthropology instructor at Western Carolina University, explained to the Associated Press. “With 100 years, there might be nothing left. But when you’ve got just a few years out, this is not unexpected.”

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Since the discovery was made, many individuals have trekked out to the Midwest for a glimpse at the nun’s body. Lori Rosebrough of Overland Park, Kansas, told USA Today that she was thrilled to have the "incredibly rare opportunity" to see "the hand of God at work."

Over Memorial Day weekend, local officials say they expect to receive even more visitors.

“We’re told to expect somewhere in the neighborhood of about 10,000, maybe 15,000 people per day — Saturday, Sunday, Monday,”  said Clinton County Sheriff Larry Fish according to CBS affiliate KCTV.

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Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. has urged visitors not to “ touch or venerate her body,” nor should they “treat them as relics” in a May 26 statement.

“It is important to protect the integrity of the mortal remains of Sister Wilhelmina to allow for a thorough investigation,” the church said on May 22.

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Sister Wilhelmina’s body will remain on display in the chapel through Monday, according to CNA. After a rosary procession, her body will then be enclosed in a glass case near the altar.

Despite the public’s fascination with the case, both Johnston and the church the process to pursue sainthood has not been initiated for Sister Wilhelmina.

But the discovery has still had a significant impact on many peoples’ faith. Abbess Cecilia believes the preservation of Sister Wilhelmina’s body is “a beautiful sign that this life is not all there is.”

“Have hope,” she told CNA. “God is still there. He still hears our prayers. He still listens. He still loves us.”

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