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.
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.