The body of a saint is displayed at a church in…Manhattan?!

he holy remains of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini  on display at at St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, in the Washington Heights.  Image credit:  Laetitia Barbier on Atlas Obscura

The holy remains of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini on display at at St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, in the Washington Heights. Image credit: Laetitia Barbier on Atlas Obscura

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917) was born in the in the Italian village of Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, in northern Italy. Frances Cabrini was born a few months premature and suffered health problems the rest of her life because of complications associated with her birth. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an international missionary congregation of religious women that became a major support to Italian immigrants in the U.S. and now works on six continents and in sixteen countries.

Frances Cabrini tried a few times after she graduated school in 1868 to join a religious life, but was turned down because of her poor health. It wasn’t until 1874 when diocesan authorities asked her to manage a girls’ orphanage in Codogno, Italy, that she was able to join a religious order. This is also where she founded the Institute of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1880.  She arrived in New York City in 1889 with six other Sisters after Pope Leo XIII asked her to come to the U.S. to help Italian immigrants.

Mother Cabrini received permission from the Archbishop of New York to found an orphanage, which is located in West Park, NY, today, and was the first of 67 institutions she established. She became an American citizen in 1907.  She died of complications from dysentery at age 67 in Columbus Hospital in Chicago, IL, on December 22, 1917. Her body was originally interred at Saint Cabrini Home, the first orphanage she founded in West Park, NY.

When Mother Cabrini‘s body was exhumed as part of the canonization process in 1931, the Apostolic delegate discovered that most of her body had decayed except for some soft tissue on her face and arms. During the exhumation her skull and heart were removed and sent to the Istituto Suore Missionarie del Sacro Cuore di Gesu in Rome.

Most of Saint Frances Cabrini’s body is now displayed under glass in the altar at St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. Mother Cabrini’s bones are encased in a wax replica of her body.  Her body was one of 31 bodies and body parts that the Vatican mummification team worked on between 1975 and 2008 in an effort to improve the mummification processes they use to preserve holy relics.

In 1946 she became the first U.S. citizen to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and is the patron saint of immigrants.

References:

Barbier, L. (2013 August 6). Notes from the Field: The shrine of an American saint. Retrieved on April 22, 2014 from: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/note-from-the-field-the-saint-cabrini-shrine

Potenza, T. (2014 March 22). Vatican’s secret, and deadly, project to mummify saints. Retrieved on April 22, 2014 from: http://nypost.com/2014/03/22/making-of-a-saint-the-vaticans-quest-to-preserve-its-leaders/

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Categories: History

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