Catacombe dei Cappuccini
CATACOMBE DEI CAPPUCCINI
In 1599, Capuchin monks made a shocking discovery while exhuming bodies from the catacombs of their monastery in Palermo — many of the bodies had been naturally mummified.
Following this discovery, the monks decided to mummify one of their own deceased, and the Palermo townspeople soon joined in.
Today more than eight thousand mummified bodies line the walls of the Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Palermo in one of the most macabre human “libraries” in the world.
The halls of the catacombs are divided into categories: Men, Women, Virgins, Children, Priests (c.f. 2nd picture below), Monks (c.f. 3rd picture below), and Professors (incl. the corpse of the famous painter Velasquez).
The corpses are dressed in fine fabrics and occupy their own individual niches according to their social status.
Some of the deceased wrote wills, expressing the clothes in which to bury them in.
Some even asked to have their clothes changed over a period of time.
In the 1880s the Sicilian authorities banned the practice of mummification.
However, this didn’t stop the custom of visiting Uncle Luigi on Sunday to see whether he was holding together.
If he fell apart, he was freshly wired together.
In 1920, the last person who was laid to rest in the Catacombe dei Cappuccini was little Rosalia – “The Sleeping Beauty” – almost lifelike in death.
During the WWII American bombers hit the monastery and thus many mummies were destroyed.
Convento dei Cappuccini
Mon-Fri 9am-12pm and 3-5pm
Catacombe dei Cappuccini, Piazza Cappuccini 1, Palermo (Italy)
+39 091 212117
Admission fee € 1.25
By bus: from Piazza Indipendenza to Via Pindemonte – the monastery is clearly signposted from there.
• Marco Lanza: “Living Dead”
• P. Flaviano Domenico Farella: “Historic News on the Church and Catacombs of the Capuchin Monks of Palermo”
(out of print)
• Ippolito Pindemonte: “The Sepulchres”
(out of print)
• The Museum of the Dead (by Robert Harbison for Cabinet)
• The Palermo Mummies (photo set by Cynthia Karalla)