"The Odor of Sanctity" - Is it real?


One of the unique occurrences that will happen to many people of strong faith has to do with what is referred to as the “odor of sanctity.”

The odor of sanctity is a fragrance that comes from a person or their clothing or their presence before or after death. Many people have experienced it after a particular moment in devout prayer. It has happened with many of our Saints. This can occur with people who have visited certain shrines or have been to Lourdes or Fatima, for example.

Essentially, individuals who are very strong in their faith have recounted an experience of having a strong odor of flowers during a very prayerful time. One person I know experienced the odor of sanctity was my mother, Dorothy.

She always had a rosary nearby. She loved the stories of the apparitions. She loved going to Mass with her children in tow. She believed in the power of prayer no matter what challenges life brought her. She was raised in a family of thirteen children and had nine children of her own. She witnessed many difficult moments in her life and experienced complexities that made coping hard. Through it all she never wavered from her Catholic faith.

She died at the age of 82. The last year of her life was her most difficult in terms of her health. I lived in Oregon and she lived in Nebraska.

My communication with her during this time consisted of daily phone calls. This was my affordable means of helping her deal with illness.

Fortunately, I had siblings who lived close and were able to help her. Two weeks before her death we had an interesting discussion. I asked how she was feeling. “Today I’m great.” She said “I had something happen to me that I need to share with you.” As a side note here, I need to interject a comment about the way she saw me. You see, often times she would preface some of our conversations with “Since you are my writer, I want to tell you something.” At this point in my life I had been working for Liberty Mutual Insurance for ten years. I truly never saw myself as a writer. On that day she commented, “Since you’re my writer, I need to share with you something that happened to me today.” She proceeded in telling me with enthusiasm, “Well, I was sitting in my chair in the living room saying my rosary when I looked up and the walls were covered in roses. When Connie (my sister) came over she asked me if someone had sent me flowers. I answered her with a smile. Yes, someone sent me flowers. You see,” she said excitedly, “the room still carried the strong smell of roses. Connie noticed it.”

My response, although skeptical, was honest. I admitted to her “I agree Mom. That’s pretty amazing.” “So, what do you think it means?”

Her response to me was firm, “You kids are going to have to learn to get along without me. It means I won’t be here much longer. This is a true sign that Jesus’ and his mother Mary are nearby. I’m ready to go and all of you need to be ready for me to leave.”

The next day she became seriously ill. My sisters Mary and Debbie flew to Nebraska to help her in her final days. My brothers Mike and Steven visited daily. I was able to talk to her a couple more times before she passed away. I have written about my mother often, but I do remember this discussion about her living room walls covered in roses and the aroma that continued afterwards. I later learned about “the odor of sanctity” accompanying people of strong faith at their death. I now think it’s entirely possible this is what had happened to her on that day.

St. Theresa de Lisieux, known as “The Little Flower,” produced a strong scent of roses when she died. It was present for days after she passed away.

St Paul mentions sanctity in Christ with the description of a fragrant aroma. “But thanks be to God,” who always leads us in triumph in Christ* and manifests through us the odor of the knowledge of Him* in every place.” (2 Corinthians, Chapter 2)

Father Dwight Longnecker wrote about an experience he had while on a visit to Nevers to see the incorruptible body of St. Bernadette. “So I took off my backpack and went into the chapel where Bernadette’s body was in a glass casket. I kept silence for 15 minutes and noticed a beautiful fragrance of flowers, but there were no flowers. As I prayed the fragrance grew stronger and I felt transported by a presence that was beyond my understanding. My greeter asked about my experience when I rejoined her. I explained what had happened.” Her response, ‘you have experienced the odor of sanctity; many people close to God receive this grace from Bernadette’.”

Father Longnecker went on to say that as exciting as it was that this happened to him and suggested it was a sort of miracle; he recognized that miracles like this can happen, however, he further stressed it is our faith that is at the core of our relationship with God. The phenomena of odors of sanctity will likely continue to happen with people of faith. However, these things are reminders that it is our faith that is important in developing our relationships with God.

The truest miracle of all will occur to all believers at the time of their death. I suppose we need to be mindful that being with Jesus, and His mother Mary surrounded by the greatest love possible namely God, is the only confirmation of faith we will need. Like Paul referenced, I’m sure heaven will include a garden of aromas “in every place” when surrounded by this perfect love!

Copyright 2016 Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh


About Author

Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh (Cathy) completed her education in Special Education and English and now works as an Agent in the Insurance Industry. A mother and Grandmother, Cathy grew up in a large Catholic family and has spent the last 30 years as a caregiver for her husband, Jack. She is a cancer survivor which inspired her to begin writing six years ago.


    • The “Odour of Sanctity” often appears, right before or after a Saint (to be) dies. For many like Catherine of Ricci, Rose of Lima or Columba of Rieti and many others that are known to have carry with their death the Odour of Sanctity, many died as a result of self induced starvation or inhability to eat due to a disease. The medical explanation for the odour of Sanctity is known as Ketosis, it occurs when the body runs out of glucose and start metabolise fatty acids, then it start to over produce acetone which produce a mild sweet smell, most often undetectable to most of us. For a large number of cases in which the Odour of Sanctity appears, most of these women were part of The Carmelite order, founded by Teresa Avila, this order is known of his auterity, and we know that many of those women that carried this sweet smell after their death were practising self induced starvation, auto flagellation and mortification. To me it seems the similarity of the environment in which occurs this Odour of Sanctity, as well that the similiraty between the life style of those women known to have carried it tell me that is scientifically explanable. However this smell is Divine or only a normal reaction emphasize by religious faith doesnt matter to me, because it is fascinating anyway.

  1. May Price-Murphy on

    I had a priest brother, the most humble of men, who died at age 48 many, many years ago.
    He loved those of his own faith, of other faiths and those who had no faith. His immense love of God has inspired me throughout my long life.
    A short few years before his death, a very beautiful odour radiated one evening, in the house. It happened while two great Christian friends were visiting. Harry, however, could not smell anything. One of the friends, while investigating , suddenly said that there was no need to search any further, that wherever my brother went, so did the perfume.
    A few years later, on returning by train following Harry’s funeral, I suddenly found myself feeling that my tears were spoiling Harry’s joy. I said ” I give him back to you, Lord. Look after him till me meet again.” The whole railway carriage instantly filled with an exquisite perfume, as of meadows of freesias. It brought tears to my eyes,such was the joy. No- one else noticed anything. This beautiful fragrance lasted about three hours, till I arrived in London. I loved my brother deeply, yet I would not have wanted him back , such was the beauty of God’s home where he now was. The year was 1976!!! How truly does ourHeavenly Father love us Alleluia!! He has walked with me through tragedies and great testing in my life.

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