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Catacombe dei Cappuccini

Coordinates: 38°06′43″N 13°20′28″E / 38.112°N 13.341°E / 38.112; 13.341
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"Professionals' Corridor" in the Capuchin Catacombs

The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo (also Catacombe dei Cappuccini or Catacombs of the Capuchins) are burial catacombs in Palermo, Sicily, southern Italy. Today they provide a somewhat macabre tourist attraction as well as an extraordinary historical record.

Historical background[edit]

Palermo's Capuchin monastery outgrew its original cemetery in the 16th century and monks began to excavate crypts below it. In 1599 they mummified one of their number, the recently-deceased brother Silvestro of Gubbio, and placed him in the catacombs.[citation needed]

Bodies were dehydrated on racks of ceramic pipes in the catacombs and sometimes later washed with vinegar. Some bodies were embalmed and others were enclosed in sealed glass cabinets. Friars were preserved with their everyday clothing and sometimes with ropes they had worn in penance.[citation needed]

Initially the catacombs were intended only for deceased friars. However, in later centuries it became a status symbol to be entombed in the Capuchin catacombs. In their wills, local luminaries would ask to be preserved in certain clothes, or even have their clothes changed at regular intervals. Priests wore their clerical vestments, while others were clothed according to contemporary fashion. Relatives would visit to pray for the deceased and to maintain the body in presentable condition.[citation needed]

The catacombs were maintained through donations from the relatives of the deceased. Each new body was placed in a temporary niche and later placed into a more permanent location. So long as contributions continued, the body remained in its proper place but if relatives stopped sending money, the body was put aside on a shelf until they resumed payments.[citation needed]


Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920, as she appeared in 1982

In 1871 Brother Riccardo was the last friar interred in the catacombs, but other famous people were interred after that. The catacombs were officially closed in 1880 but tourists continued to visit. The last burials are from the 1920s and 1930s. Among the final interments was Rosalia Lombardo, then nearly two years old, whose body remains remarkably intact, preserved with a procedure performed by Professor Alfredo Salafia. His process included formalin to kill bacteria, alcohol to dry the body, glycerin to keep it from over drying, salicylic acid to kill fungi, and the most important ingredients, zinc salts (zinc sulfate and zinc chloride) to give the body rigidity.[1][2] The formula is one part glycerin, one part formalin saturated with both zinc salts, and one part of an alcohol solution saturated with salicylic acid.[citation needed] The final burial was that of Giovanni Licata di Baucina, the count of Isnello, in 1939.[3]

The catacombs contain about 8,000 corpses and 1,252 mummies (as stated by last census made by EURAC in 2011) that line the walls. The halls are divided by category: men, women, virgins, children, priests, monks, and professionals. Some bodies are better preserved than others. Some are set in poses; for example, two children are sitting together in a rocking chair. The coffins were accessible to the families of the deceased so that on certain days the family, including the deceased, could join their hands in prayer.[citation needed]

Famous people buried in the catacombs include:

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa is sometimes said to be interred the catacombs, but he is buried in the cemetery next to them.[citation needed]

Scientific research[edit]

A video of the inside of the catacombs

The Sicily Mummy Project was created in 2007 to study the mummies and to create profiles on those who were mummified. The project is led by anthropologist Dario Piombino-Mascali of the Department of Cultural Heritage and Sicilian Identity in Palermo, and is backed by the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano[14][15] The mummies are X-Rayed and CT scanned to collect information about them, along with other anthropological and paleopathological techniques to confirm their age and gender. Piombino-Mascali credits the program with re-opening discussion about death in Sicily;

For many years the subject of death was taboo [in Sicily]. Now, given the scientific importance of what's emerging with these mummies, people are understanding that in Sicily, death has always been part of life. And for centuries many Sicilians were using mummification to make sure there was a constant relationship between life and death.

— Dario Piombino-Mascali, January 2013, Archaeology News Network

Forensic biologist Mark Benecke identified several insects that shed light on the mummification process.[16]

Recent scientific research has focused on the identities of the children in the Capuchin Catacombs.[17][18][19]


The catacombs are open to the public. Photography inside is officially prohibited, which prominent signs make clear to visitors. However, some bodies have been shown on film in Francesco Rosi's Cadaveri Eccellenti ("Illustrious Corpses"), and television programmes such as the Channel 4 series Coach Trip, BBC TV series The Human Body in 1998, Francesco's Italy: Top to Toe, Ghosthunting With Paul O'Grady and Friends on ITV2 in 2008 and The Learning Channel in 2000. Iron grilles have been installed to prevent tourists tampering or posing with the corpses.[20]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lange, Karen (January 26, 2009). "Lost "Sleeping Beauty" Mummy Formula Found". National Geographic News. Archived from the original on January 29, 2009.
  2. ^ Piombino-Mascali, Dario; Aufderheide, Arthur C.; Johnson-Williams, Melissa; Zink, Albert R. (March 2009). "The Salafia method rediscovered". Virchows Archiv. 454 (3): 355–357. doi:10.1007/s00428-009-0738-6. PMID 19205728. S2CID 26848891.
  3. ^ a b c d e Buckland Rutan, Mary (1 May 2013). "Palermo's Subterranean Necropolis: The Capuchin Catacomb". USF St. Petersburg campus Honors Program Theses (Undergraduate).
  4. ^ a b "The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo | www.palermoviva.it". 19 February 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Catacombe dei Cappuccini,Izi Travel. https://izi.travel/en/acd4-catacombe-dei-cappuccini/it#7f98-introduzione/it
  6. ^ Palermo Cathedral Archived 2014-08-06 at the Wayback Machine website, comments by Cetti Siracusano from "la Pittura del Settecento in Sicilia".
  7. ^ Fernandez, Jesse (1984). Les Momies de Palerme [The Mummies of Palermo] (in French). Paris: Editions du Chene. p. 2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  8. ^ "Catacombe dei Cappuccini".
  9. ^ Alfio Balzani; or, Extracts from the Diary of a Prescribed Sicilian. Rudd & Carleton. 1862.
  10. ^ "Bishop Agostino Franco [Catholic-Hierarchy]". www.catholic-hierarchy.org.
  11. ^ "Mummies from Palermo".
  12. ^ "Alfredo Salafia - Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo".
  13. ^ Graham, Lloyd (2023-01-01). "A (Partial) Catalogue of Named Bodies on Display in the Palermo Catacombs". Direct release to Academia.edu.
  14. ^ King, Carol (2013-04-12). "Sicilian Mummy Project Reveals How People Lived Centuries Ago". ITALY Magazine. Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  15. ^ Berlin, Jeremy (2013-01-29). "Sicilian Mummies Bring Centuries to Life". The National Geographic. Archived from the original on January 31, 2013. Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  16. ^ Baumjohann, Kristina; Benecke, Mark. "Insect Traces and the Mummies of Palermo — a Status Report". Entomologie Heute. 31: 73–93. Retrieved April 6, 2020. [.pdf]
  17. ^ Squires, Kirsty; Piombino-Mascali, Dario (2021-10-02). "Ethical Considerations Associated with the Display and Analysis of Juvenile Mummies from the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Sicily". Public Archaeology. 20 (1–4): 66–84. doi:10.1080/14655187.2021.2024742. ISSN 1465-5187.
  18. ^ Squires, Kirsty; Davidson, Alison; Piombino-Mascali, Dario (23 April 2024). "Public attitudes towards the display of non-adult mummies in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Sicily". International Journal of Heritage Studies: 1–17. doi:10.1080/13527258.2024.2343406.
  19. ^ "Home | Juvenile Mummy Project". Juvenile Mummy Proje. Retrieved 2024-03-19.
  20. ^ Piombino-Mascali, Dario; Aufderheide, Arthur C.; Panzer, Stephanie; Zink, Albert R. (June 2010). "Mummies from Palermo". In Wieczorek, Alfred; Rosendahl, Wilfried (eds.). Mummies of the World. The Dream of Eternal Life. New York: Prestel. pp. 357–361. ISBN 978-3791350301.

38°06′43″N 13°20′28″E / 38.112°N 13.341°E / 38.112; 13.341