What with all of the pictures of the deceased pope being carried through St. Peter’s Square, a lot of people seem to want to know whether he was embalmed or not before being displayed publicly. I count nine people coming to the renowned Infospigot Papal Information Clearinghouse through Google searches looking for information on whether the pope was embalmed; before you scoff, that’s a hefty 16 percent of the site’s visits on a non-banner Monday.
The answer is: I don’t know for sure. I mean, I have not found a story anywhere that says definitively that John Paul II was embalmed. However, lots of stories refer to his embalmed body being borne through the square on Monday. So I’m guessing he was embalmed.
Interesting to note that the Universi Dominici Gregis — the rules of succession that John Paul promulgated in 1996 — don’t mention embalmment, but do set out some specific rules limiting the kinds of pictures that can be taken of the pope’s body after he’s died:
“No one is permitted to use any means whatsoever in order to photograph or film the Supreme Pontiff either on his sickbed or after death, or to record his words for subsequent reproduction. If after the Pope’s death anyone should wish to take photographs of him for documentary purposes, he must ask permission from the Cardinal Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church, who will not however permit the taking of photographs of the Supreme Pontiff except attired in pontifical vestments.”
The Vatican’s site is worth checking out, for its orthodox weirdness if not for the oddness of Medieval Europe brushing elbows with the postmodern world. (Most of the news on the site has yet to be translated from Italian. So the official announcement of the pope’s cause of death refers to the primary causes — “shock settico” and “collasso cardiocircolatorio irreversibile” (which I take to be septic shock and irreversible cardiocirculatory collapse) — and several secondary causes:
“–Morbo di Parkinson
–Pregressi episodi di insufficienza respiratoria acuta e conseguente tracheotomia
–Ipertrofia prostatica benigna complicata da urosepsi
–Cardiopatia ipertensiva ed ischemica.”