Thousands of people from around the country have traveled to the small town of Gower, Missouri, after it was discovered that the body of a nun who died there four years ago had not decomposed for the most part.
Sr. Wilhelmina (Lancaster) of the Most Holy Rosary, the foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, died at age 95 on May 29, 2019.
She was buried shortly thereafter in a simple wooden casket. She was not embalmed, and her grave was dug by hand by her sisters, said the website of the monastic order.
Recently, with construction of a new altar underway, the sisters of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles "decided the rightful place of our holy foundress was in the Church."
"This practice is very common in religious communities, even before their cause [for canonization] has been introduced," the website also noted.
Sr. Wilhelmina was exhumed on April 28 — and although the top of her casket had caved in and there was dirt on her remains, her body and the items she was buried with were in a "remarkably preserved condition," according to the sisters.
"The careful process of cleaning and removing the dirt and mold began, and the body began to lose volume since the initial exhumation with exposure to air," said the monastery.
"Thus some shrinking and darkening took place. All facial features were visible, but as falling dirt had caused damage, especially to the right eye, a Sister carefully created a wax mask to cover the face."
The synthetic veil was perfectly intact.
Her profession candle, crucifix and rosary were all intact, said the monastery, in addition to the flowers that had been buried with the body.
Her religious habit, which the monastery described as being "made from natural fibers," was completely preserved.
"The synthetic veil was perfectly intact, while the lining of the coffin, made of very similar material, was completely deteriorated and gone," said the monastery.
Sister Wilhelmina was known for her devotion to the traditional Latin Mass and her faithfulness to Benedictine contemplation and the Liturgy of the Hours, according to several sources.
In the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, it has been found that some people do not decompose as expected after death.
This is called "incorruptibility," according to Catholic Answers, a website.
"Similar to how the Father did not allow Jesus’ body to experience corruption while in the tomb (see Acts 1:27), God provides that the bodily remains of some of his faithful ones will not undergo bodily corruption," said the site.
A statement posted online from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the diocese where the monastery is located, acknowledged the unusual happenings in Gower.
"The condition of the remains of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster has understandably generated widespread interest and raised important questions. At the same time, it is important to protect the integrity of the mortal remains of Sister Wilhelmina to allow for a thorough investigation," said the diocese.
Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph is "working to establish a thorough process for understanding the nature of the condition of Sister Wilhelmina’s remains," said the diocese.
"There is a well-established process to pursue the cause for sainthood, but that has not been initiated in this case yet," it also said.
"Bishop Johnston invites all the faithful to continue praying during this time of investigation for God’s will in the lives of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles; for all women religious; and [for] all the baptized in our common vocation to holiness, with hope and trust in the Lord."
Sr. Wilhelmina's body will be reinterred in its new location in the monastery's church on May 29.
She will be encased in glass, said the monastery.