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Saint Charbel Makhluf, O.L.M. (or Sharbel Maklouf),[1] (Arabic: مار شربل‎, May 8, 1828 – December 24, 1898) was a Maronite monk and priest from Lebanon. During his life he obtained a wide reputation for holiness and he has been canonized by the Catholic Church. [Source: Wikipedia]

Being an open atheist and having a skeptical personality in Lebanon causes me to have a lot of debates with my Christian friends.

With almost every single atheist/theist debate, Lebanese Christians always come claim that Saint Charbel Makhluf's body remained intact (not damaged or impaired in any way; complete) for 50 years - which seems biologically impossible to me.

The Wikipedia page says:

In the years 1950 and 1952 his tomb was opened and his body still had the appearance of a living one.The official site mentions: In this century his grave has been opened four times, the last time being in 1955, and each time "it has been noticed that his bleeding body still has its flexibility as if it were alive"; no mentioning of later openings. The Catholic Tradition website says: Father Joseph Mahfouz, the postulator of the cause, certified that in 1965 the body of Saint Charbel was still preserved intact with no alteration. In 1976 he again witnessed the opening of the grave; this time the body was completely decomposed. Only the skeleton remained.

Regardless whether experts and doctors would or would not give medical explanations for the incorruptibility and flexibility of his body, is there any credible scientific evidence which would show that Saint Charbel Makhluf's body remained intact?

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    Can you clarify whether you're asking whether A) There is any credible evidence it remained intact or B) whether we could have said credible evidence? The title implies A, but the last sentence implies B. – Bobson Dec 17 '14 at 18:16
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    @Oddthinking I like to think that the question is asking for (and that it can be answered with) a statement of what (whatever) evidence (or testimony) exists (or existed), to support or deny the claim that it did or didn't remain intact. I.e. he asking for 'best available' evidence. If that evidence weren't credible, then that too would be the answer: i.e. insufficiently credible evidence. – ChrisW Dec 17 '14 at 23:35
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    Maybe there's only the one witness, maybe several witnesses, independent witnesses, doctors' reports, photographs ... who knows what evidence there is? Presumably that's what he's asking: i.e. what evidence and/or testimony is there? – ChrisW Dec 18 '14 at 4:05
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    @belisarius He was canonized after miracles of healing, not because of incorruptibility. – ChrisW Dec 19 '14 at 2:34
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    Here's an article which allegedly includes Italian pathologists investigating other incorrupt saints' bodies (not Saint Charbel Makhluf's): web.archive.org/web/20010610014402/http://www.discover.com/… – ChrisW Dec 19 '14 at 2:39
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No, it was well preserved but it was clearly not in perfect conditions.

  1. The official site does not claim that he had the appearance of a recently deceased, in fact it was firstly "perspiring sweat & blood" and then it was merely "whole", however they claim magical lights and miraculous healings:

    After his death spiritual lights radiated from his tomb the reason for which his corpse which was perspiring sweat & blood; was transferred into a special coffin, after the permission of the Maronite patriarchate, and he was placed in a new tomb, inside the monastery. At that point groups of Pilgrims flocked soliciting his intercession. God blessed many of these by healing them and endowing them by other spiritual blessings. In the year 1925, a petition was raised to canonize him and declare his sanctity before his Beatitude Pope Bios XI, by father superior Ighnatious Dagher Tannoury, & his Vicar father Martinous Tarabay, where his plea was accepted as well as father Nehemtallah Kassab Elhardidni and Sister Rafca Elrayess in the year 1927. In 1950 the grave of St. Charbel was opened, in the presence of the Official Committee & Certified Doctors. They verified the wholeness of the corpse, and they wrote a medical report and put it in a box inside the coffin.

  2. The actual opening of the tomb and the video was filmed in 1950 and you can judge by yourself (warning: there's a cadaver in the video!)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_Ss4ES8D40

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The laws of nature which have been corroborated by scientific investigation make it clear that a body entombed without any attempt at preservation or environmental control would deteriorate to skeletal remains very rapidly. This body did not. That means it was embalmed or preserved in some way which appears, on observation of the exhumed remains, not to have been the case. Therefore, given the condition of this person's body (who died in 1898) at mid-twentieth century, despite the darkened condition of the corpse, it seems certain that "natural" decomposition has not occurred. That means, the condition of the corpse is contrary to the laws of nature as we know them. Hoax? Possibly, and the continual "oozing" of the liquid (which to my knowledge was never analyzed), the unexplained "light", and the uncertainty of entombment preparations, leaves many questions unanswered. Still,

  • the body's condition after over 50 years in the tomb,

  • the well-preserved condition of paper medical documents placed in a metal container (within the enclosure by the body years before the reopening) which itself had deteriorated significantly and filled with the fluid without destroying them,

  • the fluid which recurred subsequent to being moved from below ground to above ground (Coony, How Brief the Candle, 1987, p445), and

  • the light

are, at this point, scientifically unexplainable, dramatic, and, without further analysis, plausibly suggest the possibility of a preternatural occurrence.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    There are a wide variety of factors that affect the decomposition (or lack thereof) of a body. They can and do last centuries, even thousands of years, if the conditions are right. – TheBlackCat Nov 20 '16 at 19:36
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    Welcome to Skeptics! Please provide some references to support your claims. They had better be pretty impressive ones, given the extraordinary nature of your claims. – Oddthinking Nov 21 '16 at 0:36

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