Crowds flock to see nun's non-decaying corpse four years after death

People are flocking to a rural Missouri town to see a nun’s body that seemingly has no signs of decay four years after her death.

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, 95, founded the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, in Gower, about 40 miles north of Kansas City.

Lancaster’s body was exhumed in April so it could be moved to her final resting place in the chapel, the monastery said.

But the sisters opened the coffin to find her body completely intact, shocking the local community and drawing countless eyes to the quiet Midwestern town.

The sisters were baffled, to say the least, given that Lancaster was not embalmed after her death in May 2019 and was buried in a cracked wooden coffin.

Now between 10,000 to 15,000 Catholics were expected to flood Gower to see Lancaster’s body each day over Memorial Day weekend, Clinton County Sheriff Larry Fish said in a Facebook video on May 25.

‘We’re told to expect somewhere in the neighbourhood of about 10,000, maybe 15,000 people per day – Saturday, Sunday, Monday,’ Fish said.

The nun’s body was coated in a protective wax and placed inside a glass case yesterday so people can come and pray over her.

Worshippers have also been allowed to take a teaspoon of dirt from her grave.

Among those who travelled to see Lancaster was Samuel Dawson, a Catholic who visited from Kansas City with his son last week.

‘It was very peaceful. Just very reverent,’ he said, adding that he saw many out-of-state cars when he was there.

He added that the nuns ‘wanted to make her accessible to the public… because in real life, she was always accessible to people’.

Fish added that Gower, a town of just 1,500 people, isn’t built to cope with this amount of tourists.

Some are expected to travel as far as Canada and Mexico to see her in the months ahead.

Police have cleared land to make new parking spaces and created a mobile command centre to handle the crowds, FOX4 Kansas City reported.

Mother Cecilia, the abbess for the monastery, told the Catholic News Agency that she didn’t believe what she saw at first when she opened Lancaster’s coffin.

‘I thought I saw a completely full, intact foot and I said, “I didn’t just see that’. So I looked again more carefully,’ she said.

‘I see her foot!’ Cecilia then screamed, adding: ‘I mean there was just this sense that the Lord was doing this. Right now we need hope. We need it.

‘Our Lord knows that. And she was such a testament to hope. And faith. And trust.’

The nuns didn’t mean to make the news public but a private email about Lancaster’s body was leaked to the press, prompting a wave of worshippers.

Bishop Johnston, the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph, said that in Catholicism, bodies that do not decay are ‘incorrupt’, a sign of holiness that could lead to Lancaster being considered a saint.

‘There is a well-established process to pursue the cause for sainthood,’ Johnston said, ‘but that has not been initiated in this case yet.’

Rebecca George, an anthropology tutor at the Western Carolina University in North Carolina, said that a body not being reduced to bones in a few years isn’t exactly shocking.

‘With 100 years, there might be nothing left,’ she said, ‘but when you’ve got just a few years out, this is not unexpected.’

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