By Philip Pullella
ROME, June 3 (Reuters) - When the body of Pope John XXIII was exhumed after
38 years and found to be mostly intact, some people believed it was a miracle.
But it was in fact the achievement of a young doctor who was part of a team
that secretly inserted a special liquid into the dead pontiff's veins hours
after his death. Professor Gennaro Goglia, now 78, still vividly recalls
how a Vatican car picked him up at home on the night of June 3, 1963, hours
after Pope John died of stomach cancer. Goglia, then a specialist in anatomy
at Rome's Catholic University, did not even tell his family where he was
In a surreal ceremony, John's body was carried on Sunday in a glass coffin
to a new resting place in St Peter's Basilica where it will be visible to
the faithful. Goglia was there and saw "my pope" for the first time since
that night. "John was a great pope, a piece of history," Goglia told Reuters
Television in an interview before the ceremony in his Rome home, where he
now reproduces famous paintings and icons. "Finding myself there that night,
having to do this job which was, let's admit it, a bit macabre, I was torn
between two conflicting emotions. I was honoured to have been called to do
this but I also felt the weight of the responsibility," he said.
Before John died he entrusted a custodian to see to his funeral. John recalled
that the body of his predecessor Pius XII was preserved so badly in 1958
that the four men standing guard in the Vatican had to be changed every 15
minutes because they could not stand the stench. The custodian, also a doctor,
got in touch with Goglia. After they arrived, Goglia and others were taken
by private elevator to the papal apartments in the apostolic palace. They
had to wait about an hour while Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzu made a bronze
"Manzu walked out and we walked in," Goglia said.
The tools of their trade were rather rudimental for a papal embalmment. A
plastic tank was placed on the horizontal crossbeam of a painter's wooden
ladder. A plastic tube protruded from the tank and ended in a needle that
was placed in the dead pope's wrist. Goglia still has the formula he developed
for the liquid -- nine ingredients including ethyl alcohol, formalin, sodium
sulphate and potassium nitrate.
NOT JUST ANY BODY
"Yes, it was just a body. It didn't have to go to a beauty contest but it
was the body of the pope (and so the work had to be done properly)," Goglia
About five litres were drip-fed into the arm and another five litres were
injected via a big syringe into the stomach. This was to neutralise the
putrification caused by the cancer that had ravaged his stomach and killed
him. "It took about five or six hours. During the night I looked out the
window into St Peter's Square and saw people who had come there to pray,"
he said. Goglia said he and the others decided that no blood was to be removed
from the dead pope's veins but that the liquid would just be added. "What
would we have done with a dead pope's blood?" he said, adding that there
was a danger that, if extracted, the blood could have fallen into the wrong
hands and sold as a relic. "I feel as if he is my pope in a certain sense,"
Goglia said. "I am the last one of the people who were there that night who
is still alive."
In the past five months since it was exhumed, technicians have been working
to keep the body preserved so that it could remain visible to the faithful.
Since it was exhumed, the body of John was effectively "mummified," as one
technician put it. The coffin's glass is bullet-proof and treated to block
ultra-violet rays which could damage the body. But Goglia, interviewed again
after Sunday's ceremony, said he was disappointed that today's doctors had
decided to put a wax mask on Pope John's face. "It made me think of Madame
Tussauds (Wax Museum). It could have been handled better," he said, adding
that a cleansing solution would have given the dead pope a more natural look.