Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo
Capuchin Catacombs (Italian. Catacombe dei Cappuccini) - funeral catacombs located in the city of Palermo in Sicily, in which the remains of more than eight thousand people - the local elite and prominent citizens: clergy, aristocracy and representatives of various professions - are buried in the open form. This is one of the most famous exhibitions of mummies - the skeletal, mummified, embalmed bodies of the deceased lie, stand, hang, form compositions.
Photographs of these catacombs are quite rare, since it is forbidden to officially photograph in this place, but sometimes for professional photographers they make an exception.
(13 photos total)
1. The Capuchin Catacombs are located under the Capuchin Monastery (Italian: Convento dei Cappuccini) outside the historical center of Palermo. From Piazza Independenza (the Norman and Orleans palaces), you need to go along Corso Calatafimi two blocks and then turn along Via Pindmontet. This street ends with Piazza Cappuccini Square, on which the building of the monastery is located.
2By the end of the XVI century, the number of inhabitants of the Capuchin monastery increased significantly, and the need arose for a decent and roomy cemetery for the brethren. For this purpose, the crypt was adapted under the monastery church. In 1599, Brother Silvestro from Gubbio was buried here, and then the remains of several previously deceased monks were transferred here. In the future, the room of the crypt became cramped, and the Capuchins gradually dug a long corridor in which the bodies of the dead monks were placed until 1871.
3. Already in the XVII century, it became clear that the peculiarity of the soil and atmosphere of the Capuchin Catacombs impede the decomposition of bodies. The main method of preparing bodies for placement in the Catacombs was drying them in special chambers (Collatio) for eight months. After this period, the mummified remains were washed with vinegar, dressed in the best clothes (sometimes, according to the wills, the bodies were changed clothes several times a year) and placed directly in the corridors and cubic tubes of the Catacombs. Some bodies were placed in coffins, but in most cases the bodies were hung out, exposed or laid open in niches or on shelves along the walls.During epidemics, the method of preserving the bodies was modified: the remains of the dead were immersed in diluted lime or solutions containing arsenic, and after this procedure the bodies were also put on display.
4. Philanthropists and donors to the monastery also expressed a desire to be buried in the Catacombs. Additional corridors and cubicles were dug for their burial. Up to 1739, the archbishops of Palermo or the leaders of the Order of the Capuchins issued a permit for burial in the Catacombs, then the priors of the monastery. In the XVIII-XIX centuries, the Capuchin Catacombs became a prestigious cemetery for clergymen, noble and bourgeois families of Palermo.
5. The Capuchin catacombs were officially closed for burial only in 1882. For three centuries, about 8,000 inhabitants of Palermo — the clergy, monks, and laity — have been buried in this unique cemetery. After 1880, several more departed were laid on exclusive petitions in the Catacombs, including US Vice-Consul Giovanni Paterniti (1911) and two-year-old Rosalia Lombardo, whose imperishable bodies are the main attractions of the catacombs.
6. After the official closure of the Catacombs (1881), several more were buried here, the remains of which were embalmed.The last one was buried here Rosalia Lombardo (died December 6, 1920). The embalming doctor, Alfredo Salafia, did not reveal the secret of preserving the body; it was only known that it was based on chemical injections. As a result, not only the soft tissues of the girl’s face, but also the eyeballs, eyelashes, and hair, remained incorruptible. At present, the secret of the composition is discovered by Italian embalming scientists. Found diary Alfredo Salafi, which describes the composition: formalin, alcohol, glycerin, zinc salts and some other ingredients. The mixture was supplied under pressure through an artery and dispersed through the blood vessels through the body. Studies on embalming in the USA using the composition of Salafi gave excellent results.
7. As the number of the bodies of the Catacombs buried here increased, they expanded - the existing corridors grew and new ones broke through. As a result, the Catacombs in plan acquired the form of a rectangle with an additional corridor (Priests' Corridor) parallel to the smaller side.
8. The sides of the rectangle are the so-called Corridors of monks, men, women and professionals.At the intersection of the main corridors, small cubicles were created - children, virgins and the chapel of Saint Rosalia.
9. For practical reasons, the entrance to the “dead-end” corridors and cubicles is blocked off by gratings, and the movement of visitors is organized around the perimeter of the rectangle.
10. The Capuchin catacombs were viewed by the inhabitants of Palermo as a cemetery, albeit unusual. Since in the XVIII-XIX centuries burial here was a matter of prestige, the ancestors of many of the current inhabitants of Palermo are buried in the Catacombs.
11. The catacombs are regularly visited by the descendants of those whose bodies are here. Moreover, after the official closure of the Catacombs for burials (1882), an “ordinary” cemetery was set up near the walls of the monastery, so the tradition of burial “near the Capuchins” still remains.
12. In various cities and villages of Sicily, the Capuchins created other underground crypts in imitation of the Palermitic Catacombs, in which mummified bodies are also exposed. The most famous of these crypts are the Capuchin Catacombs in the town of Savoka (Messina Province), where about fifty mummies of representatives of the local clergy and nobility are kept.
13.The unique cemetery is one of the most famous landmarks of Palermo, attracting many tourists. Although photography and video shooting in the Catacombs is prohibited, several European and American television companies, including NTV, managed to get permission to shoot.