Pope Not Embalmed

Pope John Paul II waves to a cheering crowd, 10 June 1987, before mass in Krakow during his visit to Poland. The pope was born the son of an army officer, himself the son of a tailor, in a small town near Krakow in southern Poland(AFP/File/Eric Feferberg)

Vatican: John Paul II Was Not Embalmed

Tue Apr 5, 1:26 PM ET

By MARTA FALCONI, Associated Press Writer

VATICAN CITY – Departing from tradition, Pope John Paul II was not embalmed, only "prepared" for viewing by hundreds of thousands of mourners, the Vatican said Tuesday.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls did not elaborate on the procedure, but an embalmer in Rome said it appeared John Paul’s remains were only touched up with cosmetics.

Massimo Signoracci, whose family embalmed three other popes, said he could not be certain what had been done without examining the body.

Signoracci said even a light embalming is necessary for a body that is exposed for several days.

John Paul died on Saturday, and his remains were put on public view late Monday on an open platform in St. Peter’s Basilica. He will be buried Friday.

Historically, organs were removed to make embalming more durable. Relics of 22 popes — from Sixtus V, who died in 1590, to Leo XIII, who died in 1903 — are kept in Rome’s St. Anastasio and Vincent Church, near the Trevi fountain.

Pope Pius X, who reigned from 1903 to 1914, abolished the custom of removing organs.

Embalming usually consists of draining the blood and other bodily fluids and intravenously injecting formaldehyde and other preserving liquids.

Signoracci said his family had embalmed the remains of John XXIII in 1963, and of Paul VI and John Paul I, who both died in 1978.

Paul VI was only lightly embalmed before his body was placed before the public during Rome’s hot summer. But after two days the skin and fingernails began losing their color.

John XXIII’s body, by contrast, was in excellent condition when it was exhumed from the cramped grotto under the basilica in 2001 — 38 years after his death — and moved to the main floor following his beatification.

John Paul II, who expressed a will to be buried underground, will be placed in John XXIII’s vacant tomb.

 

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