Odour of Sanctity
(In the). The Catholics tell us that good persons die in the “odour of sanctity;” and there is a certain truth in the phrase, for, when one honoured by the Church dies, it is not unusual to perfume the room with incense, and sometimes to embalm the body. Homer tells us (Iliad, xxiii.) that Hector's body was washed with rose-water. In Egypt the dead are washed with rose-water and perfumed with incense (Maillet: Letters, x. p. 88). Herodotos says the same thing (History, ii. 86-90). When the wicked and those hated die, no such care is taken of them.
“In both the Greek and Western Church incense is used, and the aroma of these consecrated oils follows the believer from birth to death.” —Nineteenth Century: April, 1894, p. 584.
The Catholic notion that priests bear about with them an odour of sanctity may be explained in a similar manner: they are so constantly present when the censers diffuse sweet odour, that their clothes and skin smell of the incense.
Shakespeare has a strong passage on the disodour of impiety. Antiochus and his daughter, whose wickedness abounded, were killed by lightning, and the poet says:
A fire from heaven came and shrivelled up Their bodies, e'en to loathing; for they so stunk That all those eyes adored them ere their fall Scorned now their hand should give them burial.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre. ii. 4.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894