Capuchin Monks of Palermo

In 1599, the Capuchin monks of Palermo made a macabre discovery: some of the corpses they had entombed in their catacombs had become naturally mummified. Then the monks decided to preserve one of their own…

monks of palermo

When the Capuchin monks of Palermo mummified Brother Silvestro of Gubbio they started a trend. From 1599 to 1880, when the practice was outlawed, the corpses of thousands of monks were deliberately preserved. Today, despite huge losses caused by bombing during World War II, the walls of the catacombs beneath the Chiesa dei Cappuccini are covered in some 8,000 mummified corpses. The last person laid to rest in this manner was the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Rosalia Lombardo, a two-year-old child who died in 1920, for whom special legal dispensation was made. The secret of her highly successful mummification died with her embalmer, Dr Solafia – all that is known is that injections were used. Previous methods have involved immersion in arsenic or lime, and dehydration in ‘strainer’ cells that lined the dry passageways of the catacombs.