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Embalming


Embalming is a procedure owing to which it is possible to preserve the body of the deceased temporarily, whether in part or as a whole, and to display in on the catafalque. It is performed by means of various chemical agents which slow down decomposition and disinfect the tissue, and, if necessary, it is possible to reconstruct and adjust specific parts in order for the family and friends to keep the memory of their loved one alive, looking exactly the same as it was during his or her lifetime. According to some sources and experts like Jessica Milford, the possibility to part with the deceased who looks completely the same as before the sad event, enables us to part with him or her in the most appropriate way – which is of great help in the grieving process.

In some parts of the world, such as the USA, Australia or New Zealand, embalming is an integral part of the burial, and it is required by law to perform it before the remains of their citizens who died in other countries are brought back to their homeland. Furthermore, it is necessary in cases in which more time has passed between the moment of death and the burial of the deceased than usual.

The embalming process has a long history, and it can be different in various cultures, mostly for religious reasons. The earliest evidence on the embalming of the dead date back almost 6.000 years, and it was performed in the Atacama desert, in the present-day Chile and Peru, while this art was brought to perfection in the ancient Egypt, where the dead were embalmed for the purpose of mummification. The ancient Egyptians believed that the body which has been preserved enables the soul to re-enter the body much easier later. Therefore, the embalming was performed by specially trained priests. Similar skills were possessed by the Tibetan people, the Maya people and the natives of Ethiopia and Nigeria.

Although traces of embalming dating back to 3.000 years before Christ have been found in the Spanish town of Osorno, this procedure was brought to Europe and became widely used only during the Roman Empire. Embalming appears again during the Middle Ages, and in the Renaissance period it becomes extremely popular owing to highly educated doctors and scientists who used to perform it, such as Leonardo da Vinci.

Modern techniques appear in the 18th century along with the development of chemistry which has enabled the injection of various chemical compounds into the arteries of the deceased, in order to prevent the decomposition of the tissue. William Humter, a Scottish surgeon, is the first one to utilise the embalming procedure as a part of the funeral service. Soon it becomes a standard procedure provided as part of funeral service, paticularly in the cases in which the body of the deceased has to be displayed on the catafalque. Besides, many of the military leaders who died far away from their home, such as Lord Nelson after the battle of Trafalgar, are embalmed in order to be buried in their homeland. Since the 19th century, with the arrival of funeral companies, the embalming becomes a routine procedure used to treat an ever increasing number of the deceased. It is interesting that the bodies of the blessed Pope John Paul XXIII, Pope Pius X, Abraham Lincoln, Vladimir Lenjin, Eva Perón, Kemal Atatürk and Diana, Princess of Wales were embalmed before their burial.

Most christians allow embalming, except for some branches of the Orthodox Church. Orthodox Jews prohibit it, since their deceased need to be buried within 24 hours from the moment they die, but it is allowed in exceptional cases. Therefore the final decision on the embalming is to be made by the rabbi of a specific community. The Muslims do not allow embalming, since according to Islam the body is considered sacred, and is therefore to be buried as soon as possible in clean clothes and without a casket66T Forms