Friday, November 07, 2008

Question from Diane - Catherine of Valois re-burial

Why was the body of Catherine of Valois left unburied for so long after she was disinterred for the building of Henry VII's chapel?

13 comments:

PhD Historian said...

My reference sources do not way "why" specifically, but they do reveal that her coffin was moved in 1503 from its original resting place to Henry V's tomb. The ODNB states that "by then it had become strangely embalmed, and from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century it was often displayed as a curiosity." Her body was finally re-interred in 1878 in Henry V's chantry.

It is not uncommon for bodies, especially unusually well preserved ones, to be displayed as curiosities and relics. As a child, I lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I was always fascinated by the public display in a glass coffin of one of the first bishops of Puerto Rico at the Cathedral Church of San Juan Baptista in Old San Juan. The body was by then already 400 years old. Lenin's body was placed on display in the Kremlin where it remains visible to this day. Eva Peron's body was briefly displayed following the death of her husband Juan Peron in 1974. Mao Tse Tung's (Mao Zedong) body is contained in a crystal coffin in his mausoleum in Peking (Bejing). The body of Padre Pio (d. 1968), a famous modern Roman Catholic saint, went on public display in April 2008 at the Shrine of Holy Mary of Grace in the Italian town of San Giovanni Rotondo, where it will remain until at least September 2009.

And I seem to recall that the body of another person interred within Westminster Abbey was once on public display. I believe it was Edward the Confessor, the Anglo-Saxon king later canonized as a saint. I believe I am correct in recalling that his tomb-shrine once had several prayer niches surrounding it and that each niche contained a small hole for the faithful to peer in on his remains.

Nancy said...

I believe, also, that this is the Catherine whom Samuel Pepys (ca. 1660s) not only ogled but actually kissed, bragging afterwards in his Diary that now "he could boast he had kissed a queen."

Lara said...

Nancy, you beat me to it! Yes, that is the queen he kissed. Here's the passage:

"On Shrove Tuesday 1669, I to the Abbey went, and by favour did see the body of Queen Catherine of Valois, and had the upper part of the body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it I did kiss a Queen: and this my birthday and I thirty-six years old and I did kiss a Queen."

Diane said...

At least Catherine was still in a church during all those years. I was just amazed that her descendants (Tudors, Stuarts and Hanovers), not to mention the kingdom of France, didn't think it fitting to give her a proper re-burial.

Catherine Parr's well preserved body was also disinterred and left exposed for years then buried upside down according to Antonia Fraser.

Anonymous said...

"On Shrove Tuesday 1669, I to the Abbey went, and by favour did see the body of Queen Catherine of Valois, and had the upper part of the body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it I did kiss a Queen: and this my birthday and I thirty-six years old and I did kiss a Queen."

I just find this impossible. She died in 1437. 232 years later, this guy takes ahold of her body and kisses her?

Don't bodies disintegrate after a period of time? I know it wouldn't have been GONE, but how could you even touch her without the body crumbling? I just can't imagine this out in my head, aside from it being so disgusting.

djd said...

Most bodies do disintegrate after a period of time, however, there are bodies that don't. They call these bodies "Incorruptibles". Anyway, these bodies remain not only intact, but some even have a sweet smell. I think one of the gals at Fatima or Lourdes has remained this way. I believe that the Catholic church has made many of these people with incorruptable bodies saints as well. It is a great mystery as to why this happens. I remember reading this when I was reading about Tudor Tombs a long time ago.

Nikki said...

phd: you are correct. the tomb of st. edward the confessor does have niches. 3 on each side, 6 total. they are VERY tiny, since people back then were so small. i'm 5'0" tall and i would fit in perfectly.

as for the holes to peep through, the guide didn't mention them if there are any. his tomb was decorated with gorgeous mosaic tiles, which the pilgrims stole when they came to visit edward. they stole them to "prove" that they had been near the body of a saint! the only tiles left are the ones that were up too high. the same mosaic tiles were on the tomb of king henry iii and were also stolen. the only ones that remain are, of course, the tiles that were up too high for people to steal.

there were also niches in winchester cathedral for another saint, st. swithun. he is no longer there, due to the dissolution of the monasteries. thanks again, henry!!

PhD Historian said...

DJD, you are correct about "incorruptibles," but just to clarify one point: The Roman Catholic Church never canonizes someone solely on the basis of their body remaining intact long after death and emitting a sweet smell. That is neither a reason for nor a factor in sainthood. It is simply taken as a sign by the faithful that the person led a pure and "Christ-like" life. Sainthood is based on other factors, including an exhaustive review of the individuals life, words, and actions, together with any miracles attributed to them after their death. And as noted in another post, sainthood also requires a substantial group of supporters to press the cause with the Vatican, as well as a great deal of money, and the proper political climate.

Anonymous said...

So her body was one of these "incorruptibles" and that's why PHD's source states that "by then it had become strangely embalmed..."

It was likely an incorruptible?

djd said...

Thanks, PHd. The incorruptibles I read about were saints. I am ashamed to say that even though I was raised RC, I have no idea what the requirements are for sainthood, but I am sure there are more than simply having a sweet smelling body that does not decay :). It is amazing that some bodies do not decay. I wish I was still in college so I could run this one by my advanced physiology professor, who loved explaining physiological processes - especially something like this.

Patricia said...

I first visited Westminster Abbey in 1985. At that time I am certain that the tomb of Catherine of Valois was located above a then entrance to the site of Edward the Confessor's tomb. I can find nothing to verify this. Am I remembering incorrectly?
Thank you. Patricia

farfel54 said...

Toujour la Belle.





farfel54 said...

My kingdom for an 1878 photograph of her reburial. Were there photographs taken?