Embalming the Pope

In further search of the truth about papal embalming practices, I found what appears to be a nice feature story Reuters did in 2001, when Pope John XXIII was disinterred to be put on public display. The story says that the pope himself directed that he be embalmed, and the job fell to a young doctor named Gennaro Goglia:

“… Goglia, now 78, still vividly recalls how a Vatican car picked him up at home on the night of June 3, 1963, hours after Pope John died of stomach cancer. Goglia, then a specialist in anatomy at Rome’s Catholic University, did not even tell his family where he was going.

“Before John died he entrusted a custodian to see to his funeral. John recalled that the body of his predecessor Pius XII was preserved so badly in 1958 that the four men standing guard in the Vatican had to be changed every 15 minutes because they could not stand the stench. The custodian, also a doctor, got in touch with Goglia. After they arrived, Goglia and others were taken by private elevator to the papal apartments in the apostolic palace. They had to wait about an hour while Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzu made a bronze death mask.

” ‘Manzu walked out and we walked in,’ Goglia said.”

The best line in the story: “Yes, it was just a body,” (Goglia said). “It didn’t have to go to a beauty contest but it was the body of the pope.”