In culture after culture, people believe that the soul lives on after death, that rituals can change the physical world and divine the truth, and that illness and misfortune are caused and alleviated by spirits, ghosts, saints ... and gods.

STEVEN PINKER, How the Mind Works

Friday, April 24, 2009

Interesting Site - The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo

In 1599, local priests of Palermo, Sicily, mummified one of their recently deceased brothers, a holy monk named Silvestro of Gubbio, and interred him inside the catacombs so that they could continue to pray for him following his death. This was the beginning of what was to become a most macabre museum.

Subsequently, the catacombs became filled with dead friars. But this was to set a trend whereby the local people wanted their own relatives mummified. Such was the desire for this unorthodox practice, that wills were written to include a choice of attire; some expressing a wish to have a change of clothing after a given period.

It wasn't long before there were hundreds of mummies contained in the catacombs. Today, eight thousand mummified corpses line the walls like a 3D catalogue of death.

The catacombs are vast and the corpses are displayed in a variety of ways. Some are in closed coffins, some of which have had a side panel removed in which to view the body. But most are coffinless and are displayed on full view to the public. The relatives would pay donations for the upkeep of the catacombs, and whilst payments were received their loved ones corpse was given its own position, where many were posed in a lifelike fashion. However, once donations stopped, the corpse would be relegated to eternity on a shelf!

Although most are so old that little remains but a dressed skeleton. Some still have skin and hair, and in a few cases they still have their eyes!

Time and gravity has taken its toll, distorting a lot of the corpses, creating a gruesome image where the mummies appear to be screaming in an eternal agony.

Perhaps the saddest sight is that of the babies and children. A few of which hardly seem to have altered since death; their beauty and innocence suspended in time, creating an image not unlike a long forgotten doll, abandoned in a musty attic.

The most famed of the children is Rosalia Lombardo. Nicknamed the Sleeping Beauty, she almost appears at sleep in her open coffin, and looks as perfect as any sleeping child. She died of pneumonia in 1920 aged 2, and was embalmed by a secret method invented by Dr Solafia of Palermo. It is now known that the method consisted of using formalin to kill bacteria, alcohol to dry the body, glycerin to stop the body from becoming over dry, salicylic acid to kill fungi, and zinc salts to give the body rigidity. Rosalia's family are said to have visited her body often. (above taken from " ". )

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