The Venezuelan authorities will place the body of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías in the Museum of the Revolution in the capital. Acting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Moros announced the government’s decision to embalm Hugo Chávez’s body and have it permanently placed in a glass casket at a museum in Caracas for public viewing. Maduro said,”Chávez, like Lenin, or Mao Zedong, can be in a glass case, so, our people can see him forever”. Maduro also announced that he was extending the viewing of Chávez’s body for another week, as millions of Venezuelans filed past the casket containing the body of the former Venezuelan leader. More than 33 heads of states will attend the state funeral ceremony on Friday, with around 54 official international delegations present. The 58-year old leader of the Bolivarian Revolution died on Tuesday after losing a 2-year long battle with cancer, diagnosed in mid-2011.
Embalming, in most modern cultures, is the art and science of temporarily preserving human remains (some may stay in good condition over a long-term) to forestall decomposition, to make them suitable for public display at a funeral. The three goals of embalming are sanitisation, presentation, and preservation (or restoration) of a corpse to achieve this effect. Embalming has a very long and cross-cultural history, with many cultures giving the embalming processes a greater religious meaning.
Various communist leaders underwent embalming for public display. Perhaps, the most famous embalmed body of the 20th century is that of Vladimir Lenin, which continues to draw crowds decades after his death in 1924, and one can still see him in his Moscow mausoleum. Iosif Stalin also underwent embalming, he was placed next to Lenin, but his body was buried in 1961 during de-Stalinisation. Klement Gottwald of Czechoslovakia, who died just five days after attending Stalin’s funeral, underwent embalming and was displayed in a mausoleum at the site of the Jan Žižka Monument on Vítkov Hill in Prague. However, in 1962, due to a botched embalming, the body was decomposing, so, the authorities had remove it and cremate it. Bulgarian Georgi Dimitrov underwent embalming and was placed on display in the Georgi Dimitrov Mausoleum in Sofia. After the fall of communism in Bulgaria, his body was buried in 1990 in the Central Cemetery of Sofia. Mongolia‘s Khorloogiin Choibalsan, Angola‘s Agostinho Neto, and Guyana‘s Forbes Burnham were also embalmed by the same Russian team. Currently, one can also see embalmed communist leaders at the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun for Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
The botched embalming of Pope Pius XII Pacelli (1876-1958, pope 1939–58) by a charlatan doctor… which only sped up the rate of decomposition… led to his body turning black and his nose falling off while lying in state, and the body disintegrated in the coffin. The Swiss Guards stationed around Pius XII’s body were forced to change shifts every ten to fifteen minutes since the body’s odour caused some guards to pass out. The doctor who performed the embalming also took photos of the Pontiff in his death throes and intended to sell them to the tabloids. The Italian tabloids refused to buy the photos, and Pope John XXIII Roncalli banned the doctor from entering Vatican City, who furthermore prohibited any photography of a deceased Pope until the body was properly vested and laid out.
Pope John XXIII’s (1881-1963, pope 1958–63) body is on display in an altar on the main floor of St Peter’s Basilica after having been exhumed from the grotto beneath the main altar and is in an extremely well-preserved state. If a body’s remains don’t decompose, contrary to expectations, it’s often treated as a miracle. However, in the case of John XXIII, it didn’t enjoy the same acclamation, as it was held to have been due to embalming and adipocere formation. The body of Pope St Pius X Sarto (1835-1914, pope 1903–14) is in a crystal coffin, in the Chapel of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. On 17 February 1952, Pius X’s body was transferred from the crypt of the Vatican grotto. The pontiff’s body is in pontifical robes, whilst the face and hands are covered with silver. He lies within a glass and bronze-work sarcophagus for the faithful to see. Papal physicians were in the habit of removing organs to aid the embalming process. Pius X expressly prohibited this, however, and none of his successors allowed the practise to be reinstituted.
Murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers was so well-embalmed that a viable autopsy was able to be performed on his corpse decades after his death and this helped secure the conviction of his killer. Famous Russian surgeon and scientist Nikolai Pirogov underwent embalming after his death in 1881. He was embalmed using a technique that he himself developed. His body rests in a church in Vinnitsa, in the Ukraine. In contrast to the corpse of Lenin, which undergoes thorough maintenance in a special underground clinic twice a week, the body of Pirogov rests untouched and unchanging… it’s said that one only has to brush the dust off it. It resides at room temperature in a glass-lid coffin (Lenin’s body is kept at a constant low temperature).
Abraham Lincoln was embalmed after his assassination in 1865. In order to prevent anyone stealing Lincoln’s body, Lincoln’s eldest son Robert called for Lincoln’s exhumation in 1901, to be buried in a concrete vault in the burial room of his tomb in Springfield IL. Fearing that his body would’ve been stolen in the interim, Lincoln’s coffin was opened, and his features were still recognisable, 36 years after his death. Rosalia Lombardo, who died at age one on 6 December 1920, was one of the last corpses to make it to the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo, in Sicily, before the local authorities banned the practise. Nicknamed the “Sleeping Beauty”, Rosalia’s body is still perfectly intact. Embalmed by Alfredo Salafia, she’s in a glass case, looking very much like a surreal doll.
Dr Pedro Ara, who worked under orders from her husband Juan Domingo Perón, embalmed Eva María Duarte de Perón. The body was preserved to look like it was in a sleep-like state. The procedure worked, and the body showed no signs of decomposition when Eva was interred at her final resting place many years after the initial procedure. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s sarcophagus is at Anıtkabir in Ankara, Turkey. Only two people are authorised to view his body… the General of the Armed Forces and the physician in charge of checking the state of his body. Ferdinand Marcos was embalmed in Hawaii upon his death. His body was flown home; it’s currently on display in Batac, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. Diana, Princess of Wales was embalmed shortly after her death in France in August 1997. The decision to embalm her provoked conspiracy theories that she was pregnant, as the embalming fluid would’ve destroyed any evidence of foetal presence in her womb. The official explanation for the embalming was that the warm conditions in the chapel of rest where her body was laid out would’ve sped up the decomposition of the remains.
8 March 2013
Voice of Russia World Service