Odour of sanctity
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The odour of sanctity or odor of sanctity, according to the Catholic Church, is commonly understood to mean a specific scent (often compared to flowers) that emanates from the bodies of saints, especially from the wounds of stigmata.
The odour of sanctity can be understood to mean two things:
1) An ontological state (a state of being), not usually related to an actual olfactory sensation, indicating that the individual possessing it is in a state of grace (i.e., a state characterized by the absence of mortal sin). Usually refers to the state of an individual’s soul at the time of death. Some canonized saints are said to have died in an odour of sanctity.
2) An actual odour (scent or aroma) present at the time of death and for some time thereafter.
This term is used extensively in the Catholic Encyclopedia, without ever being specifically defined. Thus, it is assumed that readers know what it represents.
Odour of sanctity and sainthood
The term "odour of sanctity" appears to have emerged in the Middle Ages, at a time when many saints were raised to that status by acclamation of the faithful. In the absence of carefully written records, either by or about the individual, evidence of a saintly life was attested to only by personal recollections of those around him or her. It appears that the odour of sanctity occurring at the person’s death carried some weight in convincing the local ecclesiastical authority to "canonize" the saint – to allow the faithful to venerate and pray to him or her.
Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Maravillas of Jesus (a Spanish Discalced Carmelite) were reported to have emitted heavenly scents immediately after they had died. Reputedly, Teresa of Avila's scent emanated throughout the whole monastery the moment she died. Saint Thérèse de Lisieux (known as "the Little Flower") was said to have produced a strong scent of roses at her death, which was detectable for days afterward. Likewise, Padre Pio's stigmata allegedly emanated the smell of roses.