ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Despite overwhelming scientific evidence, including several DNA tests, the Russian Orthodox Church refused last month to recognize the remains of Czar Nicholas II as authentic.
But the church recently declared another set of remains to be those of a 16th-century saint, Alexander of Svira. The evidence? Drops of a honey-like substance between the toes of the mummified remains.
According to Orthodox tradition, the appearance of fragrant liquids on relics is a miracle and means they belong to a saint. Priests maintain the substance between the brown, mummified toes of the remains is myrrh.
But that is not enough for forensic scientists, who say more tests are needed to establish the mummy's identity.
The head of the Orthodox church, Patriarch Alexy II, visited the body Monday in a small church in St. Petersburg, calling the phenomenon "a verification of our faith."
Thousands of Orthodox believers also have thronged the Church of Martyrs' Faith, Hope and Love in recent weeks. On Monday, a crowd of 300 people waited in pouring rain outside the church to kiss the glass case containing the body. The body was covered by a black cloth except for the feet: Tiny droplets of a clear liquid were visible between the toes.
"These are very difficult times," said Natalya Khmilyova, who works part time at the church. "But all the same, God has not abandoned us and now the relics of St. Alexander of Svira have appeared. This is an amazing event that we have awaited for a long time, so glory be to God!"
The relics disappeared in 1919 when they were seized by Russia's new Bolshevik leaders from the St. Alexander of Svira Monastery as part of their repressive measures against the Orthodox church.
In December, the mummy was unearthed in an unmarked cupboard in the Military Medical Academy's Anatomical Museum in St. Petersburg, in a wooden case with jars of preserved human organs.
Tests showed the body to be of Vep origin, the same Finno-Ugric tribe to which St. Alexander belonged, and the face resembled ones portrayed in early icons. Also, the legs were crossed -- the same pose described in church chronicles of 1641, when the saint's remains were exhumed.
But forensic scientists say that is not enough to prove the saint's identity.
"The church had doubts about the royal remains, when all of science had proven their authenticity," said Olga Bykhovskaya, deputy head of St. Petersburg's Forensic Examination Service. "And here they have no doubts when science has not proved it."
For Mother Leonida Safonova, a nun with a Ph.D. in biology who tracked down the remains, faith has already triumphed over science.
"No matter which technique we use, no matter at which scientific level we prove it, the saint himself trumped all this when he started to exude the myrrh," she said.