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C is for...

...Capuchin Catacombs

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?
---Edgar Allan Poe

The Emperor

Picturesque Palermo, Sicily-- with its beautiful beaches full of glamorous sunbathers and its city streets lined with breathtakingly sculpted architecture-- hides a dark secret beneath the floors of its monastery....


Brother Silvestro Da Gubbio
Sometime during the 16th century, the Palermo monastery outgrew its original cemetery. Shortly afterwards, the monks began excavation of a crypt beneath the monastery where in 1599, the monks mummified and interred one of their own, Brother Silvestro Da Gubbio. Thus began a long history of preserving Palermo monks, lining the walls with friars dressed in their finest clerical vestments and sometimes even the ropes they had worn for penance.

As the centuries passed, it became something of a status symbol to be preserved in the catacombs, prompting many wealthy and famous Palermo residents to gift great sums of money to the monastery to ensure their place.
And, so long as the subsequent family members of the deceased continued payments, those interred would be treated to the same celebrity pampering the long-suffering mummified friars enjoyed--- routine upkeep, even changes of clothes could be, paid for.

Any mummified member of the Capuchin country club whose family failed to pay their membership dues, however, would find themselves set aside on a cramped shelf---where they would remain in perpetuity, unless their family took up the payments once again.

In total, there are some 8,000 mummies lining the walls of the Capuchin catacombs. The underground halls/tunnels are sectioned off and divided-- men, women, clergy, children, etc. Some are better
Clergy preserved in their vestments
preserved than others and some are even set up in scenes or poses--presumably so visiting family members could still interact or pay tribute to them.

The year 1871 saw the last Capuchin monk burial in the catacombs. The catacombs were finally closed in 1880, though there were a few subsequent interments up until the 1920s ---one of the last interments being one of the most famous.

Preserved by Professor Alfredo Salafia, using an embalming technique that had been lost for decades (only recently having been rediscovered), little almost-2-year old Rosalia Lombardo was laid to rest. Named the Sleeping Beauty of the Capuchin Catacombs, she is so remarkably well-preserved that 94 years after death, she still only looks to be sleeping.

Palermo Sleeping Beauty, Rosalia Lombardo


  1. Replies
    1. I know.... I've known about this place for a while. I just had to work it into A-Z :-)

  2. whoa . . . that pic of the little girl . . . words fail me.

    1. Yes, it's beyond unbelievable that she is as well-preserved as she is. It's both heart-breaking and awe-inspiring.

  3. Oh wow that was very cool, and a bit creepy but I love the historical story behind it all.:) Great post!
    History Sleuth's Writings - Blogging A-Z

    1. Thanks! And, I love creepy historical tales like this one---- the creepier the better :-)

  4. Oh wow ... not sure if I should feel repulsed or not! But hey, whatever they thought was right!
    Happy A to Z. :)

    1. yeah, I've never been sure which emotion to tie to it either---- I will admit that I'm morbidly fascinated, though I'd probably be a bit freaked out if I was actually walking through the catacombs... :-)


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