Vodnjan - Dignano
Churches and Cemeteries


The Phenomenon of Vodnjan (Dignano)

About 10,000 mummies, conserved with different chemical substances, have been found all over the world. But sometimes, human bodies or remains have been preserved without being enbalmed. There are six of such undecayed human bodies in this church:

1. St. Sebastian

Sebastian was born in Milan. His father was from Narbone in France, his mother from Milan. Although he was a Roman officer, he neither accepted the decadence of that time nor the class structure of slaves and free-men. He was a Christian. The Emperors Maximilian as well as Diocletian, named him the commander of their bodyguards because of his capabilities. That allowed him to travel all over the Court. Sebastian became famous when the Emperor condemned to death two young Christian brothers Marc and Marcellinus. The family and friends had one month to turn them away from Christianity. Sebastian said to Marc and Marcellinus: "Christ's knights, do not renounce the everlasting crown in exchange for some false promises". Sebastian converted many Romans to Christian faith. Even Cromatius, the administrator of Rome, destroyed the pagan idols nd himself gave freedom to the slaves.

When the Emperor learned of Sebastian's activities, he summoned him to the court. Sebastian remained firm in his beliefs, so he was sentenced to be tortured with arrows. Once covered with arrows "like a porcupine", the soldiers left him. A lady called Irena released him. When he recovered, his friends advised him to flee to save his life, but he instead went to the Temple of the San God. In 288 (?) A.D., he was accused by the Emperor of being responsible for the death of innocent people, he was whipped and strangled to death. His body was then thrown into a sewer. The Christians buried him on the place where he was killed, via Appia, Rome, near the catacombs in 282 (?).

His head, spinal column, scapula and neck muscles (left over when his head was torn off his body) are preserved here in this church. The literature and iconography about St. Sebastian are voluminous, and he is very well-known all over the world. St. Sebastian was named the protective saint against the plague.

2. Blessed Lion Bembo

He was born in Venice at the beginning of XII century. He was a priest at the Doge's palace in Venice. He later became the Venetian ambassador to Syria and was elected bishop. During the religious riots, he was tortured physically so severely that it was impossible to recognize him when he came back to Venice. He spent the last years of his life in the garden of the St. Lawrence monastery, where he died in 1188. A girl by the name of Catherine Franconellis was cured from blindness on his grave in the year of 1210, and after that people started going to his grave, and many were cured.

Paolo Veneziano, Il Beato Leone Bembo, tempera su tavola, anno 1321

His grave was excavated one hundred years later, and his body was found intact and in the form it is in today. According to the decision of church authorities, his body was laid in the wooden sarcophagus, its lid was painted by Paolo Veneziano in 1321, and it is now a part of the Collection of Sacral Arts in this church.

3. St. Nicolosa Bursa

She was born in Koper (Istria). Since 1465, Nicolosa was a nun in the Benedictine monasterv of St. Servolo in Venice. As she was a woman of great capabilities, the nuns elected her to be Abbess. In the year of 1505, the patriarch Antonio Surian nominated her to be in charge of renavation of the of St. Johannes of Laterano monastery. The monastery became very well known for Nicolosa's holyness; and many aristocrats brought their daughters to the monastery in order to be educated there. Many of them did not want to leave the monastery afterwards. Nicolosa performed many miraculous deeds. She died, as she predicted on 23th of April 1512 and was buried in the monastery cemetery.

In the year of 1526, fourteen years after her death, the nuns had to move to St. Anne's monastery and wanted to take St. Nicolosa's remains with them. To their great surprise, they found out that Nicolosa's body and uniform were intact and a very pleasant scent emitted from her grave. Her body was brought to Holy Cross church to be observed. Even three days later no changes could be noticed, so the Patriarch gave instructions that the body be kept in the monastery and treated with great respect. It was laid in a sarcophagus of stone and was exposed for 163 years. In the year of 1700 the body was transported to the monastery chorus, and exposed by the window of rostrum, where a lot of people carne to see it. Later on, the body was placed in the monastery chapel. In 1810, Adelaide Zorzi gave the body to the painter Gaetano Gresler, since the authorities closed all the monasteries in Venice.

According to the expert's opinion, St. Nicolosa's mummy is the best preserved human body in Europe. Her skin is still elastic. In this church there are manuscripts attesting to more than 50 miraculous recoveries thanks to the force of her holy body.

4. St. John Olini

He was a priest in the church of St. John the Baptist in Venice. During the big plague epidemic when people tried to avoid even the members of their own families, he unselfishly helped whoever he could. He was called "the living Saint". In 1300, he died at the age of 85 and was buried in the church of St. Sebastian. Many people appealed to him for help during his life, as well as after his death. Many of them recovered from uncurable diseases right on his grave. For all those miracles John was beatified as a saint by Pope Bonifatius IX. The Charter of his beatification is kept in a frame near his human remains.

In addition, Tintoretti painted his portrait. The painting is part of the Saint Biagio "Collection of Sacred Art". St. John's body is very well preserved: fingers, nails, nose, ears. His right hand seems to be "in gesture" over his body.

5. St. Barbara

There is only one leg from St. Barbara's body preserved in this church. She was born in Nicomedia (Asia) probably in the year 270 A.D.. Her mother died when she was a little girl. Her father was a pagan who collaborated with Romans, when they occupied the city, and he persecuted the Christians. As a mature girl, she disagreed with life in luxury, and she didn't want to have slaves. From those facts her father discovered that she was Christian. Consistent with his animosity toward Christians, he had her beaten and arrested. As he could not turn her away from her faith, he brought his own daughter to trial.

The legend says that the soldiers could not wound her, so they dragged her naked all over town. At that moment, an angel came and covered her with a white tunic. Her father was furious watching all this, so he killed her with a sword. She was only 18 years old. At that moment, as a vatican codex says, her father was struck by lightning, and turned into ashes. In the year of 1225, her body was transported to the Rieti Cathedral in Italy and beatified by Pope Oton III. In the Middle Ages St. Barbara was named protective saint of miners, and later on to all those who had to deal with fire. St. Barbara is esteemed all over the world.

6. St. Mary of Egypt

She was born in Egypt. At the age of 12 she escaped from home, and went to Alexandria where she lived as a prostitute for 17 years. One day she joined a group of pilgrims on their way to Christ's grave out of curiosity. On the Day of the Holy Cross she wanted to enter the cathedral with the others, but couldn't until she kneeled and repented her sinful life. From that moment forward she lived in the desert as a repentant sinner. Her example of repentence brought a great respect all over the world. Many writers and painters have described her in the most poetic way.
The Reliquary of the undecayed tongue of St. Mary from Egypt, XV. C., part of the Collection of Sacral Arts at the Church of Saint Biagio.


The phenomen of untouched or undecomposed human bodies is very interesting for modern science. There are several hypotheses explaing this: the body is preserved in a very low temperature, or the body is poisoned by arsenic, or the body is buried in ground rich with ionium and of tannin acid. But even under these circumstances a human body cannot be completely preserved. The explanation for the bodies in this church is even more difficult: they have never been in cold climate conditions, nor under this particular type ground, they died by natural or violent death, but not by poisoning. Science is searching for rational explanations, but maybe there is just one answer to all ot this: a human being is a big mystery during his life as well as after his death.

There are over 370 relics belonging to 250 different Saints preserved in this church.


  • Marijan Jelenić, Župni ured Sv. Blaža (Vodnjan)
  • Image (Bembo) - www.heiligenlexikon.de/.../Leo_Bembo.html
  • Image (Olini) - http://www.heiligenlexikon.de/.../Johannes_Olini.html

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This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran

Created: Thursday, October 26, 2000; Last updated: Wednesday, October 07, 2009
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