KING'S CAPUCHINS' CATACOMBS OF PALERMO ITALY


Last updated:
24 October 2012


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Corpse Photo Links

Woman and Child

French Colonel Enea Di Giuliano
Died 1848

Corpse Hallway

Unusual Corpse

Men's Corridor

Antonio Prestigiacomo; a monk

Corpse Shelves

"Screaming" Dead

Rosalia Lombardo:
2 Year old child; died 1920 of pneumonia

Men's Department - 1963
Photo provided by Joe Kinnison

Another Men's Department photo - 1963
Photo provided by Joe Kinnison

Priests Department - 1963
Photo provided by Joe Kinnison

Teachers Department - 1963
Photo provided by Joe Kinnison

Another view of the Men's Department - 1963
Photo provided by Joe Kinnison

More of the Men's Department - 1963
Photo provided by Joe Kinnison

Rosalia In Coffin
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Virgins

Hanging on Wall

Priests

Two Godfathers

French Bourbon Military 1828

Women's Passage view

Professionals Passage

Bartolomeo Megna: The Giant

Giovanni Paterniti; American Vice Counsul 1911

Another photo of Giovanni Paterniti
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Two Painting Brothers

An Unusually Proportioned Corpse; Possibly suffered from Marfan's Syndrome

Husband and Wife

Room where bodies were dehydrated

Children

Monsignor Franco D'Agostino:
Bishop of the Bizantine rites of Piana degli Albanesi

Brother Silvestro:
Oldest corpse - dated 1599

Babies
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Men's Corrodore
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

More Monks
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Priest With Hat
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Corpses on the Wall
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Children's Hall
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Decaying Corpse
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

More Hanging Corpses
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Men Corpses
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Child on Shelf
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Corpse with Skin Still Attached
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Priest
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Hanging Priests
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Child Standing
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Monk
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Hall of the Dead
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Men's Corrodore
Photo provided by Mike Prenis

Priest Corpse photo
Photo provided by V. Marak

Dressed in his best
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty, Sevilla, Spain

Straight out of a Horror Movie
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Another Hanging Corpse
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Hanging Out
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Dressed in White
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Hair and Teeth Intact
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Falling In His Clothes
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Losing His Jaw
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Toothless
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Children
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Long Fingers
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Women
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Monks and Priests
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Monks
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Placed Near The Ceiling
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Two Monks
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Men's Corrodore
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

Baby In Coffin
Photo provided by Nacho Benvenuty

"Horror Man"
Photo provided by Peter Meinhardt of Hannover, Germany

Photo of the Capuchin Church
Palermo, Italy

Giovanni Paterniti
Photo provided by Dr. Marianne Gilchrist

Female in red shawl
Photo provided by Dr. Mariann Gilchrist

Young boy with red hair
Photo provided by Dr. Marianne Gilchrist

Young man
Photo provided by Dr. Marianne Gilchrist

Mummy of St. Eustochia
1455 AD; Messina, Sicily. Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

Mummy of Jacoba Pollicino
cira 1509 AD; Messina, Sicily. Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

Mummy of St. Annibale Maria Di Francia
AD 1927; Messina, Sicily. Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

Mummy of unidentified body with craniotomy
cira 1800 AD; Savoca, Sicily. Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

Mummified body with filling of the facial apertures
cira 1800 AD; S. Lucia del Mela, Sicily. Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

Mummified body with a death mask
cira 1800 AD; S. Lucia del Mela, Sicily. Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

Body of Antonio Franco.
Note the mummified hand. 1626 AD; S. Lucia del Mela, Sicily. Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

Mummified body of J. B. Racuja
1873 AD; Novara di Sicilia, Sicily. Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

Mummified body of R. Stancanelli
1868 AD; Novara di Sicilia, Sicily. Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

Wooden desiccation rack
Novara di Sicilia, Sicily. Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

Mummies of priests
cira 1771-1800 AD; Piraino, Sicily. Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali.

S. Marco d Alunzio, Sicily, Crypt. Dehydration niche in which the body of the deceased was seated.
Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

S. Marco d Alunzio, Sicily, crypt; 1722 AD. The bodies are dressed in nineteenth century clothes.
Photo provided by Dario Piombino-Mascali

Hooded corpse. Drawing provided by Jodie Tipper, Burton-on-Trent, England

Male corpse. Drawing provided by Jodie Tipper, Burton-on-Trent, England

Giovanni Paterniti. Drawing provided by Jodie Tipper, Burton-on-Trent, England

Rosalia. Drawing provided by Jodie Tipper, Burton-on-Trent, England

Monk. Drawing provided by Jodie Tipper, Burton-on-Trent, England

Corpse. Drawing provided by Jodie Tipper, Burton-on-Trent, England

Catacombs Photo 1, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 2, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 3, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 4, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 5, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 6, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 7, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 8, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 9, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 10, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 11, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 12, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Catacombs Photo 13, September 2008
Photo provided by NL of Greece.

Desiccated Face
Photo from National Geographic Magazine; Feb 2009 edition; Photo by Vincent Musi

Men from the 1800's
Photo from National Geographic Magazine; Feb 2009 edition; Photo by Vincent Musi

Article by A. Gill
on the catacombs as found in the February 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine; pg 1

Article by A. Gill
on the catacombs as found in the February 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine; pg 2

Detail of the paper thin skin
of a clergyman in Piraino. Photo by Vincent Musi; February 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine

Clergyman in Piraino
Photo by Vincent Musi, National Geographic magazine, February 2009

Article by A. Gill
on the catacombs as found in the February 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine; pg 3

Palermo Monk
National Geographic magazine; February 2009; Photo by Vincent Musi

Article by A. Gill
on the catacombs as found in the February 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine; pg 4

Rosalia Lombardo
died of pneumonia in 1920. National Geographic magazine; February 2009; Photo by Vincent Musi ----------------------------

Rosalia Poem written by Seth Copeland
Seth was the poetry winner in a contest held at
Cameron University in Oklahoma.
Read his winning poem below:

---------
Rosalia
---------

"Did you see Rosalia? Bella."

-Palermo cab driver-

Have you seen her?
She lies just down the hall;
the nymph with the
darkened face,
like a bronze cast
of innocent slumber.

For a time & time,
she's been there,
sleeping nonchalant
among her grim forbears.
With hollow, abrupt smiles
they guard their spawn.
Their jagged, hanging faces
do not disturb her rest.
She sleeps on.

There's a tinge of sorrow
in that face.
The sad truth of her sleep
may well be the cause.
She has left us
a precious shell,
a statue of eerie closeness.

Wake up! Live!
Poor dear angelica!
You fell asleep a child.
You awoke a symbol.

Somewhere, she
plays and laughs again.

-Seth Copeland-

Welcome! This is a photographic trip to the Capuchins' Catacombs located in Palermo, Italy, where there are thousands of corpses lined on the walls like paintings.

The catacombs date back to the 1599 when the local priests mummified a holy monk for all to see. They wanted to pray to him after death.

In time the locals wanted their relatives remembered in this same way. Soon there were hundreds of corpses. Some of the deceased wrote wills, expressing the clothes in which to bury them in. Some asked to have their clothes changed over a period of time. Included in the catacombs are hundreds of coffins as well. Some contain the corpse that was buried in them. The side is sometimes cut to expose the deceased.

Children are sometimes posed. Two are seated together in a small rocking chair. Rosalia Lombardo was one of the last corpses to make it to the catacombs before the local authorities discontinued the practice. She was embalmed by Alfredo Salafia.

Rosalia died 6 December 1920 of pneumonia, perhaps brought on by the Spanish Flu, and is nicknamed the "Sleeping Beauty". Her father was General Lombardo. It was said that her sister and family visited her coffin often after her death.

Some of the corpses have long ago lost their flesh and are skeletons. Others have mummified flesh, hair and even eyes! All are dressed in clothes from the period in which they lived. One such example is of Colonel Enea DiGiuliano. He is still wearing his 1800's French Bourbon uniform.

Several of the corpses seem to be "screaming" from the dead. Time and gravity have distorted the corpses to look this way. It is very creepy! Some have body parts which have fallen off over the years such as hands, jaws, parts of the skull, etc.

Upon entering the catacombs, one might think that the smell would be terrible, or at least musty. Yet, there was no trace of any odor. Many of the corpses were close enough to touch, if you were so inclined.

The method for embalming Rosalia Lombardo was invented by Dr. Solafia, a doctor in Palermo, who took the secret with him when he died. It is only known that it was based on injections of chemicals and nothing else.

A second method used was that of dipping the bodies in arsenic or lime. This was done espceially during periods of epidemics.

The most common method used was that of dehydration by placing the bodies in cells, situated along the passageways. These cells were called "strainers", and look like a BBQ pit. The bodies were dried in the cells for about eight months then taken out and washed in vinegar before being exposed to the fresh air. They were dressed and put in niches, coffins, or on the walls, as instructed by the person while still alive or by relatives after death.

Monks are buried in the clothes they wore in life. They sometimes have ropes, dangling from their necks. The ropes were worn by the monks, in life, as a penance. They remain with them in death. The first monk, and the oldest corpse, is that of Brother Silvestro from Gubbio who died in 1599. The last monk interred here was Brother Riccardo of Palermo, who died in 1871.

The halls are divided into catagories: Men, Women, Virgins, Children, Priests, Monks, and Professionals. The Professionals Hall includes at least one American, writers, lawyers, priests, and others.

The Professors' section contains the bodies of professors, doctors, lawyers, painters, officers and soldiers of the Bourbon and Italian army. Among the famous names are those of the painter Velasquez, the sculptors Filippo Pennino and Lorenzo Marabitti and the surgeon Salvatore Manzella.

The catacombs are located in Palermo, Sicily. Visiting hours are from 9 a.m. - 12 noon, and 3:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Directions: (as copied from the booklet from the Catacombs)

The visitor who, from the center of the town, is making for Monreale, passes through "Porta Nuova" and at the crossroads between Via Pindemonte and Corso Calatafimi will see a sign indicating "The Capuchin Catacombs." Following Via Pindemonte, the visitor will find himself in Piazza Cappuccini, where the entrance to the Catacombes is.

The booklet indicates that you may find additional information on the catacombs in a book by P. Flaviano Domenico Farella titled

    "Historic News on the Church and Catacombes of the Capuchin Monks of Palermo".

Additionally, this unusual place was written about by Ippolito Pindemonte, who visited them on 2 November 1777, and was inspired to write his poem "The Sepulchres".

For this reason, the Mayor of Palermo dedicated to him, the street which goes from Corso Calatafimi to the convent and the Catacombes.

We recently had a question on why the catacombs were closed in the early 1900's. Dr. Marianne M. Gilchrist, Glasgow, Scotland, wrote the following on this topic:

"Besides increasing awareness of hygiene issues, there is a social/historical context, re: changes attitudes towards mortality. I believe the impact of the First World War and the subsequent influenza outbreak, with the deaths of many thousands of people in a short space of time, was a factor. It seems to coincide with the period in which prolonged wearing of mourning and the custom of mourning jewellery, which often incorporating the deceased's hair, also fell from favour here in the UK. The increasing speed of modern, mechanised life, combined with the post-war attitude that life was to be seized for the moment, militated against the slow rituals of death. Too many people had suffered multiple bereavements in the 1914-19 period to make adherence to traditional modes of mourning practical, and for a traumatised continent, the youth culture and modernity of the 1920s was something of an antidote. Read Philippe Aries & c."

Michelle Beissel recently sent in some information on a French film called, Bejart, vous avez dit Bejart. This DVD was released on May 25, 2005 and can be purchased on the internet, in English or French.
Here is an excerpt in French from a net review in French and English:

"Enfin, Maurice Bjart nous parle de ses cr´┐Żations, Palerme, dans les catacombes aux 8000 momies. Cest loccasion pour lui dvoquer son rapport avec la mort, qui la suivi tout au long de sa vie et de prsenter sa vision des contes dOffenbach."

Translated: "Finally, Maurice Bejart speaks of his ballets, in Palerme, within the catacombes containing 8000 mummies. It is the occasion for him to reveal his personal involvement with death which has followed him all his life and how he presents his vision of death in the tales of Offenbach."

Michelle Beissel also adds: "It seems that it is not a specific ballet that was inspired by the catacombs, but it is Bejart's 'obsession' with death which has inspired many of his numerous ballets, and which most likely drawn him to visiting the Capuchins Catacombs. That is my conclusion after doing some research."

Dario Piombino-Mascali, a Palaeopathologist with the University of Pisa, provided several photos seen on this website. He is attempting to catalogue the mummies of Sicily. A paper of his findings came out in June 2006.

Fun email we received:

We received the following email from Jim Brouillard, Berea, Kentucky, who visited the catacombs many years ago. Jim was a former Navy ABH2 assigned to Crash Crew, USNAF, Sigonella Sicily. Jim writes:

    "Thirty one years ago I (and a fellow sailor) were locked in these catacombs for over an hour by mistake. It was typical Italian siesta time. We shouted and screamed for the locked gate to be opened. No one heard, so we proceeded to take an extended tour. I ended up spending my entire 3 year tour in Sicily, and marrying a Sicilian to boot. I returned to Sicily once I left the service, and as a government employee and stayed 6 more years. I tried to explain my experience over the years, but with no camera it was difficult to describe. Your site has enabled me to share the feelings. I can still sense the musty old damp odors."

Ken Raymond who was in the U.S. Navy as an ET3 with VA-35 wrote the following:

    "I spent time in the catacombs in the fifties. I was attached to VA-35 and we spent some time at the base while on a MED cruise. I will never forget the hours spent down there. We went in thru a church and they pulled the alter back reveling a lighted staircase. At the bottom was a glass coffin with a beautiful young lady in it. (Editor's note: Probably the Rosalia child). Then we walked by ourselves thru all the hallways.I saw a lot of what you show but don't recall any being dressed in ties. Don't know if they added the clothes or the body's since the fifties. I do remember a couple embraced in a coffin together, which I don' t think was mentioned. Yes, it was a site to remember. We heard a clacking noise and went to check it out. Would you believe, a sailor was using his lighter to try and get some teeth out of a skull for a souvenir."

Note on this website:

This website has been online since 1998, and updated continually. It was originally put online for sailors of the U.S. Navy. I am a retired Chief Petty Officer in the Navy, and have visited the catacombs 3 times. This site was originally created so that anyone stationed on the island of Sicily could have an idea of what the catacombs of Palermo are like. Palermo is on the north-western side of Sicily.

The most unique thing about the catacombs is that these were real people. Not just dead bodies, but people that had lives, families, and careers just like we do. Their bodies remain with us, but their souls have departed to God, and to a better world. In this place you can actually feel that.

We have been priviledged to have been contacted by several TV producers, authors, scientists, doctors, and others.
We have also contributed to the following:

    National Geographic
    Travel Channel
    Archeology Magazine
    Discovery Channel
    History Channel
    "In Search Of..."
    'Mummies' a book by John Malan
    'Modern Mummies' a book by John Diedrich

    and others.

Anything of value that can be contributed to this website is very welcome.

Special thanks to Mike Prenis who sent me 21 photos and postcards from his visit to the catacombs in 1977.
Mike was deployed at that time aboard the U.S.S. Josephus Daniels (CG-27) and was an Operations Specialist Second Class.

Also special thanks to Nacho Benvenuty who sent me some of the photographs used in this site.
Nacho lives in Sevilla, Spain, and can be reached at the following email address: NochoBenve@hotmail.com

And special thanks to Joe Kinnison, of San Antonio, TX, who sent me 6 pictures he had from his visit to the catacombs back in 1963. Joe visited the catacombs while serving in the U.S. Navy, onboard the USS Saratoga, CVN-60, as an Aviation Storekeeper E-3.

CLICK HERE to visit a website built by Peter Hafele of Germany. On October 9, 2009, Peter was able to take 200 photos in the catacombs. Additionally to read a report on the Catacombs, by Peter, CLICK HERE.

CLICK HERE to see a new book, Burials, by Anne Schraff and Artesian Press, which contains a section on the Capuchen Catacombs.

CLICK HERE to view the recent photographic work of Cynthia Karalla, titled, "The Palermo Mummies 2003", that will be exhibited in Palermo through the Franca Prati Gallery. The photographers generously provided this information to the author of this website.

CLICK HERE to go to The Convento dei Cappuccini: Holy Mummies Preserved in Catacombs website developed by Hugo Reinert. Photos provided by this website.

CLICK HERE for an Archaeology Magazine article on the Catacombs by Mr. Bob Brier. Information provided by this website.

CLICK HERE to see the latest book on the catacombs, The Living Dead: Inside the Palermo Crypt by Marco Lanza and Laura Facchi. The authors generously provided a copy of this book to the author of this website.

CLICK HERE to see a wonderful children's book on the catacombs (provided by this website), and other mummies around the world. Mummies by John Malam; Kingfisher Knowledge Publishers.

CLICK HERE to see a children's book on the mummies titled, Modern Mummies; 20th Century Wonders and Beyond by John Diedrich; Capstone Press.

CLICK HEREAvailable now: Mysteries of the Mummy Kids by Kelly Milner Halls; Published by Darby Creek Publishing

National Geographic Article
Article on the catacombs in the February 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Relatives Remembered A website where you can add or research deceased members

Il Caso "Rosalia Lombardo". La Bella Addormentata di Palermo Video by Dr Dario Piombino-Mascali. Thanks to the generosity of Alfredo Salafia's relatives, the doctor was able to study his unpublished manuscript in Palermo, and is going to publish it soon. Alfredo Salafia wrote about his embalming formula in the manuscript.

German Television Report On The Catacombs Dated March 2010, this video is in German and talks about how moisture is affecting the catacombs. Sent in by Peter Hafele of Germany.

The Salafia Method Rediscovered Dated 10 November 2008, this is a short essay on embalming history in Palermo.

Original sketch of Giovanni Paterniti
by Dr. Marianne Gilchrist
Glasgow, Scotland, UK

Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, France

A true source of inspiration, the body of St. Bernadette of Lourdes was exhumed after being buried in a damp grave for 30 years. Click on her name above to access a website with beautiful photos of this remarkable Saint.

Wartime Documents On Sicily and Rosalia Lombardo

Please read two documents written by Robert Callahan who toured the Catacombs during World War II. He writes how he toured the catacombs during wartime. Please click on the link here to view his document on the Rosalia Lombardo Embalming Feat and his document on Sicily In Wartime. These are 2 very interesting documents from someone who was in the area in the 1940's.

For comments, or if you may have something to contribute to this site, you can email me at:

flygal46@yahoo.com
Kimberly King
U.S. Navy (Retired)