Hundreds flock to view nun's body which has barely decayed four years after her death

Hundreds of people have travelled to a monastery in rural Missouri to view a nun's body which appears to show no signs of decay approximately four years after her death.

The body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, who died in 2019, at the age of 95 was exhumed from the monastery grounds so she could be moved to her final resting place inside the chapel. But when her coffin was unearthed, it was discovered Sister Lancaster had not decayed. 

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph issued a statement about the discovery after hundreds flocked to the monastery to see her body.

"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.

"Bishop Johnston is working to establish a thorough process for understanding the nature of the condition of Sister Wilhelmina’s remains," the Diocese said. 

"Incorruptibility has been verified in the past, but it is very rare. There is a well-established process to pursue the cause for sainthood, but that has not been initiated in this case yet.

"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 all the baptised in our common vocation to holiness, with hope and trust in the Lord."

One woman who viewed Sister Lancaster told CNN there was no smell and the lack of decay was "remarkable". 

But forensic anthropology expert Nicholas V. Passalacqua told 9News it's not uncommon for bodies to remain well preserved for the first few years after death. 

"There are many famous cases of well-preserved human remains," Passalacqua said. "Not just things like Egyptian mummies which were intentionally preserved, but also things like the Bog Bodies of Europe which were very well preserved for thousands of years because they were in environments with low oxygen that restricted bacterial growth and access of the remains to scavengers." 

Passalacqua said it generally takes around five years for bodies to become skeletonized if they are buried without a coffin or anything surrounding them.

"So for this body, which was buried in a coffin, I personally don't find it too surprising that the remains are relatively well preserved after only four years."

Sister Lancaster's body will be laid out in the sisters' chapel until May 29 when there will be a rosary procession.

After the procession, her body will be encased in glass near the altar of St. Joseph in the chapel in order to welcome devotees.