The Capuchin Catacombs were first built in the late 1950s, initially a burial site only for friars.

Things began to change more than two centuries later when the Capuchin order allowed laypeople in the region to be buried at the site, too.

Families could also make donations to have their deceased relatives mummified. A good number of mummies are still put on display until now.

There are essentially three methods to preserve corpses: natural mummification. A body is set in a confined space to hydrate thoroughly, an arsenic bath, or a chemical embalming method where a trained professional applies or injects a mixture of substances into the dead body. 

Each method has advantages and drawbacks, resulting in the corpses displaying different levels of deterioration over the same period.

Some are still in superb condition, while others are only skeletal figures. Many of them have darkened over time and received fake eyes to appear awake.

There are also preserved bodies of children, like little dolls on display. One of the most famous in the catacomb is the body of Rosalia Lombardo.

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10 /10 World’s Most Beautiful Mummy

Located in Palermo, Sicily, the Capuchin Catacombs have more than 8,000 remains. Nearly 1,300 of those are mummified, including 163 corpses of children.

Many of them are no longer easily identified due to advanced decomposition, but many still have their skins, faces, and hairs intact.

Among the most well-known bodies in the catacombs is Rosalia Lombardo. Thanks to the hands of a skillful embalmer, her body remains in nearly perfect condition after more than a century. She is often referred to as the “world’s most beautiful mummy.”

9 /10 Rich Family

Her complete preservation method became a genuine scientific interest about a decade ago. Dr. Kirsty Squires of Staffordshire University-led research on the mummification process, collaborating with Dr. Dario Piombino-Mascali, the curator of Capuchin Catacombs.

According to Dr. Squires, the only thing known about the mummies was that they all came from wealthy families like the clergy, middle class, and nobility.

Money and power bought access to mummification. There was no conclusive information about the specific embalming method applied or the substances used when research began.


8 /10 Blue Eyes

The catacombs have now become a popular tourism spot in Palermo. Well-preserved bodies were major attractions, but Rosalia Lombardo, in particular, is the enormous attention-grabbing mummy.

Rumors had it that Rosalia appeared to be a living-dead because her eyes sometimes blinked. In June 2014, Italian newspapers reported that the girl moved her eyelids several times a day, revealing her pretty blue eyes.

The phenomenon was recorded in time-lapse photos and posted online. Since then, it has been the subject of speculations.


7 /10 Sleeping Beauty

Rosalia’s is displayed on a specially-built glass case. The body still has a well-preserved face, eyelashes, and curly blond hair. The ribbon around her head makes everything more lifelike than it is.

The otherwise century-old corpse looks just like a normal 2-year-old kid taking a nap from any angle. Only in this case, she is napping at a burial site.

On December 6, 1920, Rosalia Lombardo died just a week before her second birthday. Her father asked the renowned embalmer named Alfredo Salafia to have the girl mummified.


6 /10 Sicilian Taxidermist

Alfredo Salafia was a Sicilian taxidermist and embalmer. The mixture of chemicals and methods he employed to do the mummification process of Rosalia Lombardo was kept secret.

Salafia didn’t reveal the formula to anybody until he died in 1933. When people mention mummies, chances are they are thinking about King Tut and some horror movies.

Rosalia Lombardo was indeed mummified in recent times compared to the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, but her body is a testament to the embalmer’s skillfulness.

5 /10 Chemical Embalming

Little is known about Rosalia Lombardo and her family. She was the daughter of Mario Lombardo, a city official from Palermo. At some point, after she turned 1-year-old, Rosalia caught pneumonia.

Her body was too weak to take on the infection, and she finally died on December 6, 1920, about a week before her second birthday.

Her father didn’t want her body desiccated naturally in a dry environment in the catacombs, so he turned to Salafia to have Rosalia’s corpse chemically embalmed. It probably cost a good amount of money.


4 /10 Not An Undead

The well-preserved body, intact hair, ribbon, peaceful face, and rumored eyelid movements lead to a wild rumor suggesting that Rosalia is an undead.

Dr. Piombino-Mascali said that there was a reasonable explanation for the alleged blinking episodes. As the curator of Capuchin Catacombs, he knew all along that Rosalia’s eyes were never completely closed.

The natural light that penetrates through the windows and Rosalia’s glass case can deceive the human perception of color in the catacombs. Her blue eyes become more apparent when observed at the right moment from the correct position.

3 /10 Zero Humidity Coffin

The glass casket was not always there. About a decade ago, Rosalia’s body showed slight yet noticeable signs of decay, so it required additional treatment.

Subsequently, her original coffin was moved into a sealed humidity-free glass casket (filled with nitrogen) to prevent further decomposition.

Her body must be shifted to a horizontal position, making her eyes more visible to a small degree.

The glass has a specially-designed film to keep the remains safe from direct exposure to sunlight. The new position, natural light, and glass casket contribute to the optical illusion.

2 /10 Eyes Always Open

Everybody thinks of human remains, whether mummified or not, as rotting bodies in a horizontal position and eyes closed.

The body of Rosalia Lombardo was also placed in the glass casket horizontally, but her eyes have always been open. It is not clear if the embalmer did it intentionally.

The eyelids do not appear open; instead, they appear closed most of the time. Shadows that filter through the glass seem to obscure the eyelids.

The rumors and speculations spread because visitors naturally focus on her face rather than the surrounding environment in the catacombs.

1 /10 Formula Discovered

The secret mixture of chemicals Salafia used for the embalming procedure of Rosalia Lombardo was eventually discovered in 2009.

Dr. Piombino-Mascali came across the formula in the embalmer’s former office. The recipe was found in a manuscript in which Salafia listed the ingredients.

The mixture consisted of one part glycerin, one part mixture of alcohol and salicylic acid, and one part solution of formalin mixed with chloride and zinc sulfate.

The substances were then administered to the body through a single-point injection. It worked like a charm. 

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