More terrible than horror: the Capuchin catacombs - thousands of mummies in one place
More terrible than horror: the Capuchin catacombs - thousands of mummies in one place
Capuchin catacombs in Palermo

The Capuchin Catacombs are world famous burial dungeons in Palermo (Sicily, Southern Italy). More than 8,000 mummified bodies of people who died between the 17th and 19th centuries are buried there. Today the Capuchin catacombs are one of the main attractions of Palermo.

In 1599, the Capuchin monks made a shocking discovery during the exhumation of bodies that were removed from the catacombs below the monastery in Palermo - many bodies were naturally mummified. The peculiarities of the soil and microclimate prevented the decomposition of bodies. After this discovery, the monks decided to mummify one of their dead - Silvestro of Gubbio - by placing the deceased in the catacombs. Soon the bodies of the dead monks and even the noble townspeople of Palermo began to be demolished into the catacombs.

Later, the catacombs became a kind of status symbol - it was considered prestigious to be buried in the Capuchin catacombs. The bodies were first dehydrated by placing them for eight months on the racks of ceramic pipes in the catacombs, and then washed with vinegar. Some of the bodies were embalmed, while others were placed in sealed glass cases. Monks were buried in their daily clothes and sometimes with ropes, which they wore as a penance.

Some of the deceased wrote wills, in which they specified in what clothes they should be buried. Some even requested that their bodies be changed several times a year according to the latest fashion. Relatives went to the catacombs to pray for the dead and to keep their bodies presentable.

The Capuchin monks took money for the maintenance of the huge catacombs from the relatives of the dead. Each new body was first placed in a temporary niche, and then it was hung, displayed or laid open in a more permanent place. While the relatives contributed the money, the body remained in its permanent place, but when the relatives stopped paying, the body was put on the shelf until payments were resumed.

The peculiarities of the soil and microclimate prevented the decomposition of bodies

In the 1880s, the Sicilian authorities banned the practice of mummification. The last monk to be buried in the catacombs was Brother Riccardo. died in 1871, and the last burials date back to 1920. Today the catacombs are a place of pilgrimage for tourists.

It was in 1920 in the Capuchin Catacombs that Rosalia Lombardo, a girl, was buried, whose body is still imperishable.

It is known that Professor Alfredo Salafia, who carried out the embalming of Rosalia Lombardo, used formalin to kill bacteria, alcohol to dry out the body, glycerin to prevent the body from drying out, salicylic acid to kill fungus, and the most important component, zinc salts (zinc sulfate and zinc chloride) to give the body sufficient rigidity. But the recipe for embalming is lost.

During World War II, American bombers accidentally hit the monastery, causing many of the mummies to be destroyed. Today, around 8,000 bodies and 1,252 mummies can be found along the walls of the catacombs. The halls are divided into seven categories: men, women, girls, children, priests, monks and scholars. Some bodies were better preserved than others, and access to the coffins with them is still open to their descendants.

Although the catacombs are open to the public, photography is prohibited inside. Also, so that tourists are not photographed with the mummies, the bodies are fenced with iron bars.

It seems incredible, but mummification is still practiced in some peoples today. So, in the Anga tribe it is used shocking body smoking practice.

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