The Capuchin Catacombs- or the place where the dead ones meet the alive ones.

Today, I will take you on a new trip we will go in Palermo, Italy to visit an interesting place. We will go to visit the Capuchin Catacombs, the place where we can meet very close the dead ones, so close that we might get to shake hands. Yes, I know it sound quite creepy and in a way it is actually creepy.  Let’ s see the history of this place.

In 1543 at the church of Santa Maria della Pace, Capuchin  friars were establish. The cemetery was created for the friars, they were buried under the altar of Saint Anne, but later the cemetery started to be to small for the needs of the friars so in 1597, the friars decided to make a new cemetery. They started to excavate to create a larger cemetery behind the altar, using the existing ancient caves. The cemetery was ready in two years,  the friars decided to bring the friars that were entombed in the old cemetery in the new cemetery. The friars had a big surprise when the they exhumed the bodies, they found 45 bodies that were natural mummified and very well preserved, you could even see their faces. This was seen as an act of God, so the friars decided instead of burying them to expose the brothers  and mummify the bodies.The first mummy  was brother Silvestro of Gubbio, he was mummified in 1559 and placed into catacombs. The bodies,to be mummified they were dehydrated on racks of ceramic pipes in the catacombs and sometimes later they were washed in vinegar.Some of the bodies will be embalmed and others enclosed in sealed  glass cabinets. The friars will wear their usual robes after dead also. Catacombs were made for the friars but with time they became a tomb even for those that didn’t were friars. in the next century all that wished to be entombed there could be, they would wear their usual clothes and be exposed on the walls same as the friars. The relatives could come from time to time to change the dead ones clothes.silvestro-da-gubbio

Relatives can visit their dead ones, pray for them, and maintain the bodies in a good condition.

Each new body will be placed in a temporary niche and later placed in a permanent one. They bodies would will be put aside , if their living relatives would stop paying for  the niche, until they would pay  again.

Last friar that was entombed was brother Riccardo in 1871,  the catacombs will still receive other people. They will be closed in 1880 officially but even so there were still be other people entombed. The last person that was entombed was the little girl named Rosalia Lombardo, she was entombed in 1920, she was two years old when she died, she is considered the most beautiful mummy. She looks like she is sleeping, her body was preserved with a long forgotten procedure that was lost until Alfredo Salafia rediscover it.katakumby5

The catacombs host about 8000 bodies and 1252 mummies that line the walls.  The bodies are put  on categories men, women, virgins, kids, monks, professionals .

The mummification process.

Natural mummification, is a natural process based on dehydration, removing the fluids presents in the tissues in that way stopping the growth of bacteria and the process of decay of the body. This process will be perfected by the capuchin monks.

How the is the process made:

After a short while after the person passed away, the body is placed in a room called colatoio, in this room will be removed the  internal organs from the body. Instead of the organs there will be put of straw or bay leaves, so the dehydration will be facilitated. Than the bodies will be put in a supine position on  grids of terracotta tubes, so the body fluids can drain away and their flesh desiccate. The colaiato room is perfect place for mummification as the air is dryer with a low humidity, the room than will be closed for a year. After the bodies will be exposed to air, washed with vinegar, dressed and and placed in the wall niche.

Another method that was used mostly in the epidemic time  was that the body will be washed in arsenic so the body will preserve perfect.

    Artificial mummification the body will be injected with chemicals that will help preserve the body. This method was used by  Alfredo Salafia to embalm the little Rosalia.

I hope you will enjoy it and don’t get to scared 🙂 for more info: http://www.palermocatacombs.com/

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