Day 24: Sleeping Beauty and Sicily's Well Dressed Dead - Atlas Obscura
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Day 24: Sleeping Beauty and Sicily’s Well Dressed Dead

31 Days of Halloween: On Atlas Obscura this month, every day is Halloween. Stop by the blog every day this month for true tales of the unquiet dead. Come for the severed heads, stay for the book bound in human skin. Every story is true, and each one is a real place you can visit. We dare you. 

Cappuchini

The most stylish mummies since the ancient Egyptians sport stylish ensembles in Palermo’s Catacombs.

Lining long, dimly lit corridors, seated on benches and chairs, and tucked into open coffins are the 8,000 quasi-mummified corpses of the Capuchin Catacombs.

Cappucini 9 Seth Teicher

photo by Seth Teicher 

This City of the Dead is nestled beneath the bustling Sicilian capital of Palermo, where thousands of fortunate, decaying souls are dressed for eternity in their Sunday best. 

Cappucini 2 Seth Teicher

 photo by Seth Teicher 

Located beneath the lavish grounds of the Capuchin cloisters and cemetery, the catacombs have a unique history and are home to arguably the best preserved mummy in the world.

Cappucini 3 Seth Teicher

 photo by Seth Teicher

Established in the 16th century by Capuchin friars as an outgrowth of the original cemetery, the crypts were originally dug in 1599 to hold the mummified body of fellow monk, Silvestro of Gubbio. Originally intended for other dead friars, a strange tradition emerged over the ensuing centuries as affluent Sicilians were entombed in the crypts as a symbol of social status. These well-to-do would request to spend the rest of time adorned in their favorite outfits, some even insisting that their wardrobe be changed at regular intervals.

Cappucini 5 Seth Teicher

photo by Seth Teicher

Upon internment, the bevy of bodies would be dehydrated, occasionally washed with vinegar and sometimes embalmed to better preserve their features.

Cappucini 8 Seth Teicher

photo by Seth Teicher 

When they were ready, the friars would display them throughout the catacombs, separating them into a few corridors, each one hosting a specific type of person. There is a room for religious figures, mainly those affiliated with the monastery, for professionals, such as doctors, and a room for women, virgins and infants. 

Cappucini 11 Seth Teicher

photo by Seth Teicher

In a clever, if not cynical ruse to fund the catacombs, the friars insisted that families of the dead make regular payments to keep their loved one’s on display in the proper place. If the payments lapsed, the bodies found their way onto a lonely shelf, gathering dust and forgotten.

Cappucini 7 Seth Teicher

photo by Seth Teicher

But of all of the crypt’s inhabitants, one lifeless resident in particular stands out among the rest. Her name is Rosalia Lombardo, who died of the flu at age 2, and was one of the last people to be interred in the catacombs in the 1920s. 

Cappucini 10 Seth Teicher

photo by Seth Teicher

Unlike the other dead, her body is remarkably well preserved. So much so, that she merely appears to be sleeping in a crib. Due to t he color in her face, pretty features and sweat on her brow, she has been bestowed the name, “Sleeping Beauty.” Her unparalleled preservation is due to an embalming procedure that was lost for decades, but rediscovered in recent years. 

 

DRESS WISELY 

CAPUCHIN CATACOMBS, Palermo, Italy