Volume > Issue > The 'Odor of Sanctity'

The ‘Odor of Sanctity’


By Dwight Longenecker | February 2002
Dwight Longenecker is the editor of The Path to Rome and the author of Listen My Son: St. Benedict for Fathers. His study of Benedict and Thérèse of Lisieux will be published in the spring of 2002. He lives in England, where he works as a freelance writer and broadcaster.

My friend Sandra spent a quiet day with the Eucharistic ministers of her church, and they got to talking about St. Thérèse of Lisieux. One of the minister’s family is French, and he said his grandmother was present at the exhumation of Thérèse’s body at the Lisieux cemetery in 1910. The grandmother always recounted with wonder that she smelled an intense fragrance of flowers as the coffin was opened. Many people present experienced the same phenomenon.

I confess, this interests me because I had an experience of what’s called the “odor of sanctity” as well. One summer I hitchhiked to Jerusalem from England, staying in monasteries along the way. Halfway through France I stopped at the town of Nevers, where St. Bernadette (who saw the Virgin Mary at Lourdes) spent her days as a nun. She died in 1879. Her body is supposed to be uncorrupted, and is still on display in the convent chapel.

At the convent I was assigned a room, went up to wash, then made my way down to the dining hall. At the table everybody was jabbering away in French and this woman sidles up and sits next to me.

She flashes me a big American smile and says, “Ah hope you won’t mahnd if ah sit here.” She’s from Alabama.

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