Hundreds of people flocked to a small Missouri town this week and last seen a nun whose body has barely decomposed since 2019. Some say it’s a sign of holiness in Catholicism, while others say the lack decomposition may not be as rare as people. think.

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster was exhumed in April, according to a statement from the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Gower, Missouri.

The nuns had been preparing for the addition of a St. Joseph shrine, and that involved «the reburial of the remains of our beloved founder, Sister Wilhelmina,» the statement said.

When Lancaster was exhumed, they were told to wait only for bones, as she had been buried in a simple wooden coffin without any embalming four years ago.

Instead, they discovered an intact body and «a perfectly preserved religious habit,» the statement said. The nuns had no intention of publishing the discovery, but someone posted a private email and «the word started to spread like wildfire.»

Image: People wait to view the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster at the Benedictine Abbey of Mary, Queen of Apostles on May 28, 2023, near Gower, Missouri.
People wait to view the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster at the Benedictine Abbey of Mary, Queen of Apostles on May 28 near Gower, Missouri.Charlie Riedel/AP

Volunteers and local law enforcement helped manage crowds in the city of approximately 1,800 people, as people from all over the country visited to see and touch Lancaster’s body.

“It was pretty amazing,” said Samuel Dawson, who is Catholic and visited Kansas City with his son last week. “It was very peaceful. Just very reverent.

Dawson said there were a few hundred people when he visited and that he saw a lot of out-of-state cars.

Visitors were allowed to touch it, Dawson said, adding that the nuns «wanted to make it accessible to the public … because in real life, it was always accessible to people.»

The monastery said in a statement that Lancaster’s body will be placed in a glass sanctuary in his church on Monday. Visitors will still be able to see his body and remove dirt from his grave, but they will not be able to touch it.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph also issued a statement.

«The condition of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster’s remains has understandably generated widespread interest and raised important questions,» the diocese said. «At the same time, it is important to protect the integrity of Sister Wilhelmina’s mortal remains to allow for a thorough investigation.»

“Incorruptibility has been verified in the past, but it is very rare. There is a well-established process to pursue the cause of sainthood, but it has not yet been started in this case,» the diocese added.

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles also said that Lancaster has not yet reached the required minimum of five years from death for the sanctification process to begin.

Rebecca George, an anthropology instructor at Western Carolina University in North Carolina, said the lack of body decomposition might not be as rare as people expect.

George said «mummification» of unembalmed bodies is common on university grounds and that bodies could be kept for many years, if allowed.

The coffins and clothing also help preserve the bodies, he said.

“Normally, when we bury people, we don’t exhume them. We can’t see them a couple of years from now,» George said. “At 100 years, there may be nothing left. But when you have a few years left, this is not unexpected.