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Title: Embalming  
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Subject: Mummy, Coffin birth, Death, Decomposition, Thomas Holmes (mortician)
Collection: Anatomical Preservation, Death Customs, Undertaking
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Llullaillaco mummies (Embalming by Freeze-drying)

Embalming is the art and science of preserving human remains by treating them (in its modern form with chemicals) to forestall decomposition. The intention is to keep them suitable for public display at a funeral, for religious reasons, or for medical and scientific purposes such as their use as anatomical specimens.[1] The three goals of embalming are sanitization, presentation, and preservation (or restoration). Embalming has a very long and cross-cultural history, with many cultures giving the embalming processes a greater religious meaning.

Embalming is distinct from taxidermy. Embalming preserves the human body intact, whereas taxidermy is the recreation of an animal's form often using only the creature's skin mounted on an anatomical form.


  • History 1
    • Modern methods 1.1
    • Today 1.2
  • Terms for embalmers 2
  • Modern practices 3
  • Grooming 4
  • Clothing 5
  • Chemicals 6
  • Specialist embalming 7
  • For anatomy education 8
  • Religious practices 9
  • Notable embalmings 10
  • Depictions in the media 11
    • Fictional depictions 11.1
      • Onscreen, in film 11.1.1
      • Onscreen, in television 11.1.2
    • Non-fictional depictions, e.g. documentaries and reality TV 11.2
  • See also 12
  • Notes 13
  • References 14
  • External links 15


Pottery, dishes and other miscellaneous items from the embalming cache of Tutankhamen.

The Chinchorro culture in the Atacama desert of present-day Chile China Jaboudi and Peru are among the earliest cultures known to have performed artificial mummification as early as 5000-6000 BC.[1] Perhaps the ancient culture that had developed embalming to the greatest extent was that of Egypt, where as early as the first dynasty (3200 BC) specialized priests were in charge of embalming and mummification. The Ancient Egyptians believed that preservation of the mummy empowered the soul after death, the latter of which would return to the preserved corpse.

Other cultures known to have used embalming techniques in antiquity include those of the Ethiopeans, Guanches, Peruvians, Jivaro Indians, Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayans, Tibetian and southern Nigerian tribes.[1]

The earliest known evidence of artificial preservation in Europe was found in Osorno (Spain) and are about 5000 years old human bones covered in cinnabar for preservation, but embalming remained unusual in Europe up to the time of the Roman empire.[1]

In China, artificially preserved remains have been recovered from the period of the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), the main examples being that of Xin Zhui and the Mawangdui archaeological site. While these remains have been extraordinarily well preserved, the embalming fluids and methods used are unknown.[1]

In Europe the knowledge and practice of artificial preservation had spread from these ancient cultures becoming widely spread by about 500 AD. The period of the middle ages and the renaissance is known as the Anatomists period of embalming and is characterized by an increased influence of scientific developments in medicine and the need of bodies for dissection purposes. Early methods used are documented by contemporary physicians such as Peter Forestus (1522–1597) and Ambroise Pare (1510-1590). The first attempts to inject the vascular system were made by Alessandro Giliani of Persiceto, who died in 1326. Various attempts and procedures have been reported by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Jacobus Berengar (1470–1550), Bartholomeo Eustachius (1520–1574), Reinier de Graaf (1641– 1673), Jan Swammerdam (1637–1680) and Frederik Ruysch (1638–1731).[1]

Modern methods

William Hunter developed and popularized the modern technique of arterial embalming in the late 18th century.

The modern method of embalming involves the injection of various chemical solutions into the arterial network of the cadaver to prevent decomposition. William Harvey, the 17th century English physician who was the first to detail the system of blood circulation, made his discoveries by injecting coloured solutions into corpses.

It was the Scottish surgeon William Hunter who was the first to apply these methods to the art of embalming as part of mortuary practice. He wrote a widely read report on the appropriate methods for arterial and cavity embalming in order to preserve bodies for burial. His brother, John Hunter, applied these methods and advertised his embalming services to the general public from the mid-18th century.

One of his more notorious customers was the dentist Martin Van Butchell. When his wife Mary died on January 14, 1775, he decided to have her embalmed and turn her into an attraction to draw more customers. Hunter injected the body with preservatives and color additives that gave a glow to the corpse's cheeks, replaced her eyes with glass eyes and dressed her in a fine lace gown. The body was then embedded in a layer of plaster of Paris in a glass-topped coffin.[2]

Butchell put the body on display in the window of his home. Many Londoners came to see the body but Butchell also drew criticism on his gruesome display. A rumor, possibly started by Butchell himself, claimed that his wife's marriage certificate had specified that her husband would only have control over her estate after her death, for as long as her body was kept unburied.[3]

Interest in, and demand for, embalming grew steadily in the 19th century largely for sentimental reasons. People wished to be buried at far off locations and mourners wanted the chance to display the body for visitors to pay their last respects to. Another motive behind embalming at this time was to prevent the spread of disease while being able to prepare for burial without unseemly haste. After Lord Nelson was killed during the Battle of Trafalgar, his body was preserved in brandy and spirits of wine mixed with camphor and myrrh for over two months. At the time of his state funeral in 1805, his body was found to still be in excellent condition and completely plastic.[4]

Embalming fluids used in the early 20th century.

Alternative methods of preservation, such as ice packing or laying the body on so called 'cooling boards' gradually lost ground to the increasingly popular and effective methods of embalming. By the mid-19th century, the newly emerging profession of businessmen-undertakers - who provided funeral and burial services - began adopting embalming methods as standard.

Embalming caught on in the United States during the American Civil War, as a result of sentimental issues involving foreign officials and service-men dying far from home, and the need for their remains to be returned home for local burial. This period starting at about 1861 is known as the Funeral period of embalming and is marked by a separation of the fields of embalming by funeral directors and the embalming for medical and scientific purposes.[1] Dr. Thomas Holmes received a commission from the Army Medical Corps to embalm the corpses of dead Union officers to return to their families. Military authorities also permitted private embalmers to work in military-controlled areas. The passage of Abraham Lincoln's body home for burial was made possible by embalming and it brought the possibilities and potential of embalming to a wider public notice.

Until the early 20th century, arsenic was frequently used as an embalming fluid, until it was supplanted by other more effective and less toxic chemicals. There were questions about the possibility of arsenic from embalmed bodies later contaminating ground water supplies. There were also legal concerns as people suspected of murder by arsenic poisoning could claim that the levels of poison in the deceased's body were a result of embalming post mortem rather than evidence of homicide.

In 1867, the German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann discovered formaldehyde, whose preservative properties were soon discovered and which became the foundation for modern methods of embalming, replacing previous methods.


Modern embalming is most often performed to ensure a better presentation of the deceased for viewing by friends and relatives.

A successful viewing of the cadaver is considered to be helpful in the grieving process.[5][6] It allows the mourners to form a memory picture of the deceased. Embalming has the potential to prevent mourners from having to deal with the rotting and eventual putrescence of the corpse.[7]

This view has been challenged, however, by authors such as Jessica Mitford, who point out that there is no general consensus that viewing an embalmed corpse is somehow "therapeutic" to the bereaved, and that terms such as "memory picture" were invented by the undertakers themselves, who have a financial interest in selling the costly process of embalming to the public. Mitford also points out that, in many countries, embalming is rare, and the populace of such countries are still able to grieve normally.[8]

Embalming is also a general legal requirement for international repatriation of human remains (although exceptions do occur) and by a variety of laws depending on locality, such as for extended time between death and final disposition or above ground entombment.

In the United Kingdom, where open casket funerals are extremely rare, embalming is still used in many funeral homes.

Terms for embalmers

The roles of a Funeral Director and an embalmer are different. A funeral director is a person who arranges for the final disposition of the deceased and who may or may not prepare (including embalming) the deceased for viewing (or other legal requirements). An embalmer is someone who has been trained in the art and science of embalming and may not have any contact with the family, although many people fill both roles. The term mortician is becoming out-dated, but may refer either to a funeral director or to an embalmer, or both. Embalming training commonly involves formal study in anatomy, thanatology, chemistry, and specific embalming theory (to widely varying levels depending on the region of the world one lives in) combined with practical instruction in a mortuary with a resultant formal qualification granted after the passing of a final practical examination and acceptance into a recognized society of professional embalmers.

Legal requirements over who can practice vary geographically; some regions or countries have no specific requirements. Additionally, in many places, embalming is not done by trained embalmers, but rather by doctors who, while they have the required anatomical knowledge, are not trained specialists in this field. Today, embalming is common practice in North America and New Zealand while it is somewhat less frequent in Europe. In some countries, permits or licences are required; in others it is performed only by medical practitioners, and the costs can be relatively high.[9]

In the United States, the title of an embalmer is based largely on the state that they are licensed in. At one time in Virginia, Maryland, a funeral director is someone who is licensed only to make arrangements and handle the business side of the funeral home, while a mortician is licensed to do these things as well as to embalm. As recently as 2015, Virginia has required that funeral directors also perform 25-50 embalmings as well as 25-50 arrangements during their apprenticeships as a requirement for their licensing, culminating in 3000 hours per apprenticeship.

Modern practices

Instruments used for embalming

As practiced in the funeral homes of the Western World (notably North America), embalming uses several steps. Modern embalming techniques are not the result of a single practitioner, but rather the accumulation of many decades, even centuries, of research, trial and error, and invention. A standardized version follows below, but variation on techniques is very common.

The deceased is placed on the mortuary table in the supine anatomical position with the head elevated by a head block. The first step in embalming is to check that the individual is in fact deceased, and then verify the identity of the body (normally via wrist or leg tags). At this point embalmers commonly perform basic tests for signs of death, noting things such as clouded-over corneas, lividity and rigor mortis or by simply attempting to palpate a pulse in the carotid or radial artery. In modern times, people awakening on the preparation table is largely the province of horror fiction and urban myth.

Any clothing on the corpse is removed and set aside and any personal effect such as jewelry is inventoried. A modesty cloth is sometimes placed over the genitalia. The corpse is washed in disinfectant and germicidal solutions. During this process the embalmer bends, flexes and massages the arms and legs to relieve rigor mortis. The eyes are posed using an eye cap that keeps them shut and in the proper expression. The mouth may be closed via suturing with a needle and ligature, using an adhesive, or by setting a wire into the maxilla and mandible with a needle injector, a specialized device most commonly utilized in North America and unique to mortuary practice. Care is taken to make the expression look as relaxed and natural as possible, and ideally a recent photograph of the deceased while still living is used as a template. The process of closing the mouth, eyes, shaving, etc. is collectively known as setting the features.

Tank containing embalming fluid

The actual embalming process usually involves four parts:

  1. Arterial embalming, which involves the injection of embalming chemicals into the blood vessels, usually via the right common carotid artery. Blood and interstitial fluids are displaced by this injection and, along with excess arterial solution, are expelled from the right jugular vein and collectively referred to as drainage. The embalming solution is injected with a centrifugal pump and the embalmer massages the body to break up circulatory clots as to ensure the proper distribution of the embalming fluid. This process of raising vessels with injection and drainage from a solitary location is known as a single-point injection. In cases of poor circulation of the arterial solution, additional injection points (commonly the axillary, brachial or femoral arteries, with the ulnar, radial and tibial vessels if necessary) are used. The corresponding veins are commonly also raised and utilized for the purpose of drainage. Cases where more than one vessel is raised are referred to as multiple-point injection, with a reference to the number of vessels raised (i.e. a six-point injection or six-pointer). As a general rule, the more points needing to be raised, the greater the difficulty of the case. An injection utilizing both the left and right carotids is specifically referred to as a restricted cervical injection (RCI), while draining from a different site to injection (i.e. injecting arterial fluid into the right common carotid artery and draining from the right femoral vein) is referred to as a split (or sometimes cut) injection.
  2. Cavity embalming refers to the replacement of internal fluids inside body cavities with embalming chemicals via the use of an aspirate their contents. He then fills the cavities with concentrated chemicals that contain formaldehyde. The incision is either sutured closed or a "trocar button" is secured into place.
  3. Hypodermic embalming is a supplemental method which refers to the injection of embalming chemicals into tissue with a hypodermic needle and syringe, which is generally used as needed on a case by case basis to treat areas where arterial fluid has not been successfully distributed during the main arterial injection.
  4. Surface embalming, another supplemental method, utilizes embalming chemicals to preserve and restore areas directly on the skin's surface and other superficial areas as well as areas of damage such as from accident, decomposition, cancerous growth or skin donation.

A typical embalming takes several hours to complete. An embalming case that requires more attention or has unexpected complications could take substantially longer. The repair of an autopsy case or the restoration of a long-bone donor are two such examples.

Embalming is meant to temporarily preserve the body of a deceased person. Regardless of whether embalming is performed, the type of burial or entombment, and the materials used – such as wood or metal caskets and vaults – the body of the deceased will eventually decompose. Modern embalming is done to delay decomposition so that funeral services may take place or for the purpose of shipping the remains to a distant place for disposition.


Restoration tools, Museum of Funeral Customs

After the body is rewashed and dried, a moisturizing cream is applied to the body. The body will usually sit for as long as possible for observation by the embalmer. After being dressed for visitation/funeral services, cosmetics are applied to make the body appear more lifelike and to create a "memory picture" for the deceased's friends and relatives. For babies who have died, the embalmer may apply a light cosmetic massage cream after embalming to provide a natural appearance; massage cream is also used on the face to prevent them from dehydrating, and the infant's mouth is often kept slightly open for a more natural expression. If possible, the funeral director uses a light, translucent cosmetic; sometimes, heavier, opaque cosmetics are used to hide bruises, cuts, or discolored areas. Makeup is applied to the lips to mimic their natural color. Sometimes a very pale or light pink lipstick is applied on males, while brighter colored lipstick is applied to females. Hair gels or baby oil is applied to style short hair; while hairspray is applied to style longer hair. Powders (especially baby powder) are applied to the body to eliminate odors, and it is also applied to the face to achieve a matte and fresh effect to prevent oiliness of the corpse. Mortuary cosmetizing is not done for the same reason as make-up for living people; rather, it is designed to add depth and dimension to a person's features that lack of blood circulation has removed. Warm areas – where blood vessels in living people are superficial, such as the cheeks, chin, and knuckles – have subtle reds added to recreate this effect, while browns are added to the palpabrae (eyelids) to add depth, especially important as viewing in a casket creates an unusual perspective rarely seen in everyday life. During the viewing, pink-colored lighting is sometimes used near the body to lend a warmer tone to the deceased's complexion.

A photograph of the deceased in good health is often sought to guide the embalmer's hand in restoring the body to a more lifelike appearance. Blemishes and discolorations (such as bruises, in which the discoloration is not in the circulatory system and cannot be removed by arterial injection) occasioned by the last illness, the settling of blood, or the embalming process itself are also dealt with at this time (although some embalmers utilize hypodermic bleaching agents, such as phenol based cauterants, during injection to lighten discoloration and allow for easier cosmetizing).


In the Western world, men are typically buried in business attire, such as a suit or coat and tie, and women in semi-formal dresses or pant suits. In recent years, a change has occurred and many individuals are now buried in less formal clothing, such as what they would have worn on a daily basis, or other favorite attire. The clothing used can also reflect the deceased person's profession or vocation: priests and ministers are often dressed in their liturgical vestments, and military and law enforcement personnel often wear their uniform. Underwear, singlets, bras, briefs and hosiery are all used if the family so desires, and the deceased is dressed in them as they would be in life.

In certain instances a funeral director will request a specific style of clothing, such as a collared shirt or blouse, to cover traumatic marks or autopsy incisions. In other cases clothing may be cut down the back and placed on the deceased from the front to ensure a proper fit. This is done, for example, when the rigid state of the deceased makes it impossible to bend the arms to place them through the sleeves in clothing. In many areas of Asia and Europe, the custom of dressing the body in a specially designed shroud/funeral gown, rather than in clothing used by the living, is preferred.

After the deceased has been dressed, they are placed in the coffin or casket. In North American English, a coffin is anthropoid [a stretched hexagon] in form, whereas a casket is a rectangular box. It is common for photographs, notes, cards and favorite personal items to be placed in the casket with the deceased. Bulky and expensive items, such as electric guitars, are occasionally interred with a body. In some ways this mirrors the ancient practice of placing grave goods with a person for use/enjoyment in the afterlife. In traditional Chinese culture, paper substitutes of the goods are buried or cremated with the deceased instead, as well as paper money specifically purchased for the occasion.


Embalming chemicals are a variety of preservatives, sanitizers, disinfectant agents and additives used in modern embalming to temporarily delay decomposition and restore a natural appearance for viewing a body after death. A mixture of these chemicals is known as embalming fluid and is used to preserve deceased individuals, sometimes only until the funeral, other times indefinitely.

Typical embalming fluid contains a mixture of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, ethanol, humectants, and wetting agents and other solvents that can be used. The formaldehyde content generally ranges from 5 to 35 percent and the ethanol content may range from 9 to 56 percent.

Specialist embalming

Badly decomposing bodies, trauma cases, frozen or drowned bodies, and those to be transported over long distances also require special treatment beyond that for the "normal" case. The restoration of bodies and features damaged by accident or disease is commonly called restorative art or demi-surgery and all qualified embalmers have some degree of training and practice in it. For such cases, the benefit of embalming is startlingly apparent. In contrast though, many people have unreasonable expectations of what a dead body should look like, due to the unrealistic portrayal of "dead" bodies (usually by live actors) in movies and television shows. Viewers generally have an unrealistic expectation that a body going through decomposition should look as it did before death. Ironically, the work of a skilled embalmer often results in the deceased appearing natural enough that the embalmer appears to have done nothing at all. Normally a better result can be achieved when a photograph and the decedent's regular make-up (if worn) are available to help make the deceased appear more as they did when alive.

Embalming viscera treated separately with cavity fluid or a special embalming powder in a viscera bag, "shake and bake". In many morgues in the United States and New Zealand, these necessary vessels are carefully preserved during the autopsy; in countries where embalming is less common, such as Australia and Japan, they are routinely excised.

Long-term preservation requires different techniques, such as using stronger preservative chemicals and multiple injection sites to ensure thorough saturation of body tissues.

For anatomy education

A rather different process is used for cadavers embalmed for dissection by medical doctors and medical students. Here, the first priority is for long term preservation, not presentation. As such, medical embalmers use embalming fluids that contain concentrated formaldehyde (37–40%, known as formalin)/gluteraldehyde as well as phenol and are made without dyes or perfumes. Many embalming chemical companies make specialized anatomical embalming fluids.

Anatomical embalming is performed into a closed circulatory system. The fluid is usually injected with an embalming machine into an artery under high pressure and flow and allowed to swell and saturate the tissues. After the deceased is left to sit for a number of hours, the venous system is generally opened and the fluid allowed to drain out, although many anatomical embalmers do not use any drainage technique.

Anatomical embalmers may choose to use gravity-feed embalming, where the container dispensing the embalming fluid is elevated above the body's level and fluid is slowly introduced over an extended time, sometimes as long as several days. Unlike standard arterial embalming, no drainage occurs and the body distends extensively with fluid. The distension eventually reduces, often under extended (up to six months) refrigeration, leaving a fairly normal appearance. There is no separate cavity treatment of the internal organs. Anatomically embalmed cadavers have a typically uniform grey colouration, due both to the high formaldehyde concentration mixed with the blood and to the lack of red colouration agents commonly added to standard, non-medical, embalming fluids. Formaldehyde mixed with blood causes the grey discoloration also known as "formaldehyde grey" or "embalmer's grey".

Religious practices

Embalming of the body of Christ from triptych, Netherlandish (Bruges), c. 1410-20

There is much difference of opinion amongst different faiths as to the permissibility of embalming. A brief overview of some of the larger faiths positions are examined below.

  • Most branches of the Christian faith generally allow embalming. Some bodies within Eastern Orthodoxy profess an absolute ban against embalming except when required by law or other necessity,[10] while others may discourage but do not prohibit it.[11] In general the decision on embalming is one that is dictated by the personal preference of the family rather than a specific church policy.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not discourage or prohibit embalming. Often, due to the custom of church members dressing the deceased, embalming is given preference.
  • Members of Iglesia ni Cristo allows embalming for the view of their loved ones. It forbids autopsy and cremation because they believe the body of the deceased is sacred and should be cared for with respect. They dress and groom the deceased as they looked in life. The preferred method is arterial embalming, in which formaldehyde is injected into the body.
  • Some Neopagans generally discourage embalming, believing it unnatural to disrupt the physical recycling of the body to the Earth in the mistaken belief that embalmed bodies do not decompose. They encourage the use of green graveyards, where the body is placed in a biodegradable casket and buried under a tree instead of a tombstone.
  • Members of the Bahá'í Faith are not embalmed. Instead, the body is washed and placed in a cotton, linen or silk shroud. The body is to be buried within one hour's journey from the place of death, if this is feasible. Cremation is also forbidden.
  • Zoroastrians traditionally hold a type of sky burial within a structure known as a Tower of Silence in which the body is exposed to weathering and predation to dispose of the remains, and thus embalming the body is contrary to their funeral designs. This is due to the Zoroastrian belief that the dead body is unclean and the pure elements of earth and fire should not be allowed to come into contact with it. This practice was declared illegal in Iran by the government of the last Shah and Iranian Zoroastrians have since turned to burials in concrete chambers which allow no contact between corpse and soil. zoroastrians in India who are known locally as Parsees continue to use the Tower of Silence.
  • Traditional Jewish law forbids embalming or cremation, and burial is to be done as soon as possible – preferably within 24 hours. However, under certain circumstances, burial may be delayed if it is impossible to bury a person immediately, or to permit the deceased to be buried in Israel. Guidance of a Rabbi or the local chevra kadisha (Jewish Burial Society) should be sought regarding any questions, as particular circumstances may justify leniencies. Notably, the Biblical Joseph was, according to the (Genesis 50:26) embalmed in the Egyptian fashion as was his father Israel (Jacob) (Genesis 50:2). The chevra kadisha ensures the body is guarded (except during the Sabbath); typically these shomrim (guards) recite Psalms within earshot of the deceased. The deceased is dressed in a kittel—a white robe-like garment, and then in a white linen shroud. burial in Israel is done without a casket. Outside Israel caskets may be used if required by local custom or law, but it must be a simple coffin, made without nails or glue, so as to permit natural processes to process the corpse.
  • Embalming is not practiced by Muslims, as they bury their deceased. For them, the body is sacred. They are urged not to delay the burial process. The body is washed usually by a close relative. He or she is then dressed in a clean, perfumed, plain white burial shroud, called "kafan". People gather to hold a joint prayer for the dead called 'Salat Al-Janaza'. They do not use coffins. Instead, the 2 meter deep grave has edging approximately 1 meter down, where a slab is placed which in turn is covered with loose dirt.

Notable embalmings

  • Lord Nelson (1758-1805) was preserved for two months in brandy and spirits of wine mixed with camphor and myrrh after which time the body was found to be in excellent condition and completely plastic.[4]
  • Various communist leaders have been embalmed and put on public display. Perhaps the most famous embalmed body of the 20th century is that 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.[13] Currently, embalmed communist leaders can also be found in the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun for Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
  • The botched embalming of Pius XII (1876 – 1958; pope 1939 – 1958) 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 odor caused some guards to pass out. The doctor who performed the embalming had also taken photos of the Pontiff in his death throes and intended to sell them to tabloids. The Italian tabloids refused to buy the photos, and the doctor was banned from entering the Vatican City-State by John XXIII, who furthermore prohibited any photography of a deceased Pope until the body is properly vested and laid out.
  • Charles XII, (1682-1718) is one of several Swedish kings to have been embalmed. When Charles XII's sarcophagus was opened in 1917, his features were still recognizable, almost 200 years after his death. Photographs of his remains clearly show the gunshot wound to his head leading to his death.
  • Pope Saint John XXIII, (1881 – 1963; pope 1958 – 1963) body is on display in an altar on the main floor of the Basilica of Saint Peter after having been exhumed from the grottoes beneath the main altar and has retained an extremely well preserved state. If a body's remains do not decompose, contrary to expectations, it is often treated as a miracle. However, the case of John XXIII's body did not enjoy the same acclamation, as it was held to have been due to embalming and adipocere formation.
  • Pope St. Pius X, (1835 – 1914; pope 1903 – 1914) body 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 dressed in pontifical robes, while the face and hands are covered with silver. He lies within a glass and bronze-work sarcophagus for the faithful to see. Papal physicians had been in the habit of removing organs to aid the embalming process. Pius X expressly prohibited this, however, and none of his successors has allowed the practice 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.
Abraham Lincoln, detail from a carte de visite (Photo caption from book: "Retouched post-mortem photograph by John B. Bachelder, Washington, D.C., April 16, 1865)
  • Famous Russian surgeon and scientist N. I. Pirogov, was embalmed after his death in 1881. He was embalmed using the technique he himself developed. His body rests in a church in Vinnitsa, 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 is said that only dust has to be brushed off of it. It resides at room temperature in a glass-lid coffin (while Lenin's body is preserved 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, Illinois. Fearing that his body would have been stolen in the interim, Lincoln's coffin was opened, and his features were still recognizable, thirty-six years after his death.
  • Rosalia Lombardo, who died at age one on 6 December 1920 and was one of the last corpses to make it to the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo, Sicily before the local authorities banned the practice. Nicknamed the 'Sleeping Beauty', Rosalia's body is still perfectly intact. Embalmed by Alfredo Salafia, she is in a glass case, looking very much like a surreal doll.
  • Eva Perón was embalmed by Dr. Pedro Ara ordered by her husband Juan 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.
  • Kemal Ataturk, whose sarcophagus lied at his embalming, stayed at Ethnography Museum of Ankara from 10 November 1938 to 10 November 1953. Then he buried to Anıtkabir in Ankara, Turkey.
  • Ferdinand Marcos was embalmed in Hawaii upon his death. His body was flown home and is currently on display at Marcos Museum and Mausoleum 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 have destroyed any evidence of fetal 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 have sped up the decomposition of the remains.
  • Chiang Kai-shek was embalmed in Cihu Mausoleum, Daxi District, Taoyuan City, Taiwan.
  • Chiang Ching-kuo was embalmed in Touliao Mausoleum, Daxi District, Taoyuan City, Taiwan.

Depictions in the media

Fictional depictions

  • Lenore, The Cute Little Dead Girl by Roman Dirge, Lenore accidentally resurrects the cursed vampire Ragamuffin (who was transformed into a rag doll) with a drop of blood. When he fails to regain his vampire body and powers, he learns that Lenore has been embalmed. Her altered blood interacts with his curse in an unforeseen way, leaving him forever trapped as a rag doll.
  • The Loved One, a satiric novel by Evelyn Waugh that was the basis for a movie of the same name directed by Terry Southern, is set in the funeral industry of Hollywood, California. Specifically, the story is a spoof of Forest Lawn-style mortuaries. The story centers on Dennis Barlow, a British expatriate who falls in love with Aimee Thanatogenos, a cosmetician at Whispering Glades Mortuary. This brings him into competition with Mr. Joyboy, the mortuary's chief embalmer who lusts after Aimee. In the movie, Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger) is shown shaping the face of Dennis' late uncle (John Gielgud) into ghoulish shapes.
  • Skyrim, Nords in ancient burial crypts embalm their dead so they don't decay and so they can rise again as protectors of the crypt.

Onscreen, in film

  • Bernie (2011 film) features the title character demonstrating the embalming process for a class of students
  • Many horror films dealing with animate mummies focus on gruesome aspect of Ancient Egyptian embalming practises, frequently having them embalmed alive as punishment for some transgression.
  • In the end of the Vincent Price film The Abominable Dr. Phibes the central villain rather ludicrously embalms himself to be forever with his dead wife in the final sequence. This does not stop his resurrection for the sequel.
  • In the film The Godfather, Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) asks for an extensive embalming as a return favor from an undertaker whom he had assisted earlier. The corpse is the Don's son Sonny (James Caan) who had been brutally shot with dozens of machine-gun bullets.
  • In the film Kissed the lead female character is a necrophiliac who is training to become an embalmer.
  • In the film My Girl, one of the principal roles is mortician Harry Sultenfuss, whose first line is a deadpan "Tell them I'll call back, I'm just embalming my geography teacher" (which he is). Several plot devices depend on differing perceptions of what is appropriate in the grooming of various corpses.
  • In the Korean horror film, The Host, the problem is created when an embalmer flushes various embalming fluids down the drain, creating a monster.
  • Elvis and Anabelle shows an amateur embalmer working in his father's mortuary.

Onscreen, in television

  • The television show Six Feet Under, set in a funeral home, has brought embalming and funeral practice back into the public eye. The character Hector Federico "Rico" Diaz is a full-time embalmer employed by the funeral home in the show.
  • In Season 4, Episode 14 of Criminal Minds, the killer is embalming his victims so he can spend more time with them.
  • In the TV Show, CSI: NY (Season 4, Episode 1) a person is shown being embalmed with orange dish soap while he was still alive. This was to make him confess to a murder he witnessed. In the CSI episode, "Toe Tags" (Season 7, Episode 3), the segment "Embalmy Day" features Marine Sergeant Jack Day, who was killed by someone who smoked a joint with THC in it.
  • Artist Mitsukazu Mihara created a series titled The Embalmer (Shigeshoshi). It focuses on the difficulties the main character, an embalmer named Shinjyurou, faces in Japan, where embalming is generally looked down upon. In 2007, TV Tokyo aired a drama series based on the manga, starring Wada Masato as Shinjyurou.
  • In an episode of Quantum Leap, Sam leaps into a small-town mortician. He learns that the young woman he is embalming did not in fact commit suicide and must prove that she was murdered. The episode also features a corpse beautician. Upon her preparation to begin making-up the body, Sam asks her "not to overdo it; keep it natural."
  • In "Marine Down" – Season 1, Episode 9 of NCIS, a marine major, temporarily assigned to Columbia, is embalmed alive to cover up the theft of US $2 million by a CIA agent gone rogue.
  • In the film Tales from the Crypt, Richard Greene portrays a character who is killed in a car accident and then magically wished back to life forever, after he has been embalmed. As a result, he awakens in excruciating pain and there is no cure; he will be in physical agony permanently.
  • During the 23 November 1998 edition of Raw is War, The Undertaker and Paul Bearer attempted to embalm Stone Cold Steve Austin alive in order to make him experience agonizing pain. The embalming is interrupted at the last possible moment when The Undertaker is attacked by his on-screen half-brother Kane.
  • In the South Park episode Pinkeye, Kenny's arteries are accidentally filled with Worcestershire Sauce during embalming, which causes him to return from the dead as a zombie.
  • In The Double Death of the Dearly Departed, Bones - Season 4, Episode 22, Dr. Brennan suspects that a deceased coworker didn't die from a cardiac failure, but was stabbed to death. In fact he had been poisoned, but had been accidentally stabbed by the undertaker during the embalming process. After the investigation Dr. Saroyan is setting the features, before the body is presentable again.

Non-fictional depictions, e.g. documentaries and reality TV

  • The A&E reality TV show Family Plots, set at the Poway Bernardo Mortuary in Poway, California, often gave viewers a behind-the-scenes look into the embalming room. The embalmer; Shonna Ciantar-Smith, was known as one of the best embalmers in the funeral business and became a celebrity because of the television show.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ 1991 Metcalf, Peter & Richard Huntington. Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual. Cambridge Press, New York. Print.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Funerals
  12. ^ 2015-04-22 Lenin's Body Improves with Age
  13. ^


  • Abrams, J.L. Embalming. 2008.
  • Frederick, L.G.; Strub, Clarence G. [1959] (1989). The Principles and Practice of Embalming, 5th ed., Dallas, TX: Professional Training Schools Inc & Robertine Frederick. OCLC 20723376.
  • Mayer, Robert G. (2000-01-27). Embalming: History, Theory and Practice, 3rd ed., McGraw-Hill/Appleton & Lange. ISBN 978-0-8385-2187-8.

hola a todos

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