Today, I will take you on a new trip to Palermo, Italy, to visit an exciting place. We will see the Capuchin Catacombs, the place where we can meet the dead ones very close that we might get to shake hands. Yes, I know it sounds pretty creepy, and it is actually scary in a way. Let’s see the history of this place.
Capuchin friars were established in 1543 at the church of Santa Maria Della Pace. The cemetery was created for the friars to be buried under the altar of Saint Anne. Later the cemetery started to be too small for the needs of the friars, so in 1597, the friars decided to make a new cemetery. They began to excavate to create a larger cemetery behind the altar, using the existing ancient caves. The graveyard was ready in two years, the friars decided to bring the friars, which were entombed in the old cemetery in the new cemetery. The friars had a big surprise when they exhumed the bodies. They found 45 bodies that were naturally mummified and very well preserved. You could even see their faces. This was seen as an act of God. 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 initially. With time they became a tomb even for those that didn’t were friars. In the next century, all that wished to be entombed here 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 clothes of the dead one.
Relatives can visit their dead ones, pray for them, and maintain their bodies in good condition.
Each new body will be placed in a temporary niche and later in a permanent niche. The bodies would be set aside if their living relatives would stop paying for the niche until they would pay again.
The 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 there will still be other people entombed. The last person that was buried was the little girl named Rosalia Lombardo. She was entombed in 1920. She was two years old. Rosalia 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.
The catacombs host about 8000 bodies and 1252 mummies that line the walls. The bodies are categorized as men, women, virgins, kids, monks, professionals.
The mummification process.
Natural mummification is a natural process based on dehydration, removing the fluids present in the tissues that stop the growth of bacteria and the process of decay of the body. This process will be perfected by the capuchin monks.
How is the process made:
After a short while from the death moment, the body is placed in a colatoio room. In this room will be removed the internal organs from the body. Instead of the organs, there will be straw or bay leaves, so the dehydration will be facilitated. Then, the bodies will be put supine on grids of terracotta tubes, so the body fluids can drain away, and their flesh desiccate. The colatoio room is the perfect place for mummification as the air is dryer with low humidity. The room will be closed for a year. After the bodies are exposed to air, washed with vinegar, dressed, and placed in the wall niche.
Another method that was used mainly in the epidemic time was that the body would be washed in arsenic so the body would preserve perfectly.
In 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 too scared 🙂 for more info: http://www.palermocatacombs.com/