The catacombs of the Capuchins of Palermo. This is a place that you have certainly heard of several times and that we can assure you, deserves to be visited at least once in a lifetime. Perhaps the period close to the feast of the dead is precisely the most suitable! But what curiosity are we talking about? We are talking about the body of Rosalia Lombardo, a 2-year-old girl, who has been in the Catacombs for over 100 years, masterfully embalmed, in perfect condition, who also seems to be about to open her eyes and come back to life.
It is December 13, 1918. Mario Lombardo is an infantry officer who only on this day discovers what happiness is, true happiness. Maria di Cara, his partner, has in fact just given birth to their first daughter, Rosalia. Mario and Maria are not married at the time of Rosalia's birth, but they are very much in love. After 7 months from the birth of the child they also decide to get married, aware that they need to take this step in order to guarantee serenity and tranquility for their family. Life goes on happily for Mario and Maria. The two are more and more in love, they lead a comfortable and peaceful life and their little girl grows up beautiful, healthy and strong. Suddenly, however, fate plays a mocking trick on the couple. On December 6, 1920, a few days after her second birthday, Rosalia died.
Bronchopneumonia, diphtheria, typhus, over the years these have been the most widespread theories on the death of little Rosalia. Some researchers, who had the opportunity to study the girl's body, later discovered that it was most likely bronchopneumonia, discarding the other theories instead. Coming to this conclusion was not difficult for them. In fact, the body of little Rosalia has organs in a perfect state of preservation and you can see how one lung is denser than the other, a clear sign that the little girl actually fell ill with bronchopneumonia.
What happened to little Rosalia's body after she died
But let's go back to that December 6, 1920. We can only imagine the agony of the parents of little Rosalia. Losing a child is always a tragedy, and if it is a child of just a few years of life, the tragedy is undoubtedly even greater and more difficult to bear. Perhaps it is precisely for this reason that Rosalia's parents requested that the child's body be entrusted to Alfredo Salaria, one of the most famous embalmers of the twentieth century, with the hope in this way of being able to pay homage to the memory of the little girl, torn all too young to life, with the hope of being able to stop the passage of time.
Alfredo Salaria arrived at the house of the Lombardo spouses, located in Piazza San Francesco di Paola, about 24 hours after the child's death. The embalming took place right there, in that house where the little girl lived her first two years of life, happy and surrounded by the love of her family. After the embalming, Rosalia was then transported to the Catacombs of the Capuchins, which was made possible by the mayor of the city, Giuseppe Lanza di Scalea, who in fact gave his permission.
But why did the body of little Rosalia Lombardo remain in the Capuchin Catacombs for so long? Why is he still there now that it's been over 100 years since his death? These questions arise spontaneously. According to the laws of the time, in fact, the embalmed bodies should have remained in the Catacombs only temporarily, only to later find a definitive burial, a burial that Rosalia never had. Impossible to answer these questions. What is certain, however, is that Rosalia's parents traveled a lot in the years following her death, for work reasons. They moved to other Italian cities and then also abroad, thus without having the opportunity to choose a cemetery where to bury their child. Perhaps it is precisely for this reason, therefore, if in the end Rosalia's body has always remained there, where it was first placed.
It should be remembered that in 1925, five years after Rosalia's death, the Lombard couple had another baby girl, who was called with the same name as their little sister, in her eternal memory. Even if the little girl's body has not found a worthy burial, the choice to embalm her so as to be able to give her eternal rest and to give her name to her little sister are the clear sign of how much Rosalia was loved.
The embalming of the body of Rosalia Lombardo by Alfredo Salaria
The body of Rosalia Lombardo is certainly not the first on which Alfredo Salaria put his hands, considered one of the best embalmers of the twentieth century, chosen by many noble families over the years to create bodies for their loved ones. However, the work that Alfredo Salaria managed to carry out on the body of little Rosalia is incredible, his most successful work ever, the body considered the most beautiful in the world by scholars and experts in the sector.
How did you succeed in this feat? Surely, some will say, Alfredo Salaria has studied a lot to obtain this surprising result. He studied and experimented, yes, but in total autonomy. In fact, it seems that Alfredo Salaria did not undertake any university career. Maybe he finished middle school, nothing more. What is certain, however, is that Alfredo Salaria was a great lover of chemistry as well as anatomy and over the years he had the opportunity to do many experiments, first on animal bodies, then starting from the early 1900s also on human corpses. , thanks to the possibility that he was granted access to the anatomical school of Professor Randaccio.
For years the mix of chemicals that Alfredo Salaria used on Rosalia remained unknown, as well as the technique used. Researchers and scholars had made many hypotheses, but without any evidence and without having official documentation. Then one day one of the descendants of the Salaria family remembered that she had kept an old manuscript. He then handed it over to the researchers who discovered the formula right there to guarantee a body the eternal sleep it deserves. Alfredo Salaria used glycerin, formalin, zinc salts, alcohol and salicylic acid on the body of little Rosalia. Not only that, he also added paraffin, duly dissolved in ether. This mix of substances was injected directly through an incision in the femoral artery. Alfredo also designed an ad hoc coffin for little Rosalia, with a glass lid welded to a wooden crate, so that the body could be preserved for a long time, since there was no contact with light, since in this way no one could touch the body.
It is thanks to all of this that little Rosalia's body has reached us intact. The researchers were able to ascertain that the internal organs are still in perfect condition, but it is the face that is surprising, that face that every visitor to the Catacombs of Palermo can observe with his own eyes. Rosalia's face has very sweet features, with the plump cheeks of a two-year-old girl, delicately framed by fair hair. A tuft of hair is also held in place by a yellow bow. The eyes are half closed, so that the face can appear even more relaxed and sweet, an intense serenity. So ajar, they always seem on the verge of opening up, as if there is a hope that that little girl can return to life.
Rosalia's body remains in perfect condition despite more than 100 years having passed, but it is also true that researchers and scholars have created a specially designed latest generation case for the little sleeping beauty of Sicily. In fact, a few years ago it was realized that the girl's face was going to meet a normal decay. Even the best body at some point goes towards a process of decomposition, even if only partial. It also appears that over the years, perhaps the 1960s or 1970s, the glass in the coffin broke. It is possible that contact with the air before its replacement may have resulted in damage. Compared to when the body was placed in the Catacombs of the Capuchins, it seems that the skin of the child's face has become darker and that the hair has instead lightened, from brown to blond. The researchers then created a new aluminum case for Rosalia Lombardo, saturated with nitrogen, and moved the girl's body to a less humid place. Thanks to these tricks it will be possible to keep this body intact for a long, long time.
The other bodies present in the catacombs
Rosalia is surrounded by many other bodies, over 8000, who sleep their eternal sleep in the Catacombs of the Capuchins. Nothing to do with Rosalia's body! All the other bodies present were in fact emptied of their internal organs and then left to rest for about a year. After washing with vinegar, they were filled with straw and then dressed. This process does not offer any kind of respect for the facial features, but despite this there were many people who sought such treatment. Obviously it was expensive, for this reason these bodies almost all belong to people of high class. And the body of Alfredo Salaria? His body is not here, it has been buried. The researchers wanted to see what state his body was in. Of him who gave eternal sleep to many bodies, of him who transformed Rosalia's body into a masterpiece, all that remains is a pile of bones.
Curiosities about the body of Rosalia, who seems to be blinking
The body of little Rosalia has closed eyelids as if she were sleeping. However, they are not perfectly closed, they are actually ajar, as if it were sleeping, yes, but on the verge of waking up. It is reasonable to believe that the embalmer made a choice of this type to pay homage to this young missing soul, to ensure that this body could give the appearance of life.
To tell the truth, many people claim to have seen his eyelids blink. It seems that it was the video surveillance cameras that noticed this light and slow movement. Some photographs taken in sequence, at intervals of about one minute, also offered a similar testimony.
There are those who claim that it is a mere optical illusion, caused by how the light falls on those half-closed eyelids. There are those who say that a slight opening and closing of the eyelids actually occurs due to the humidity present and how it changes over the course of the day. There are those who believe that it is really her, little Rosalia, who blinks forever, almost a way to communicate with the world of the living. Who is right? Who is wrong? Is it better to believe in science or in the irrational? Nobody can answer these questions, a mystery that after all it is perhaps good that it remains so.
There is one last curiosity concerning Rosalia Lombardo. Thanks to the technological tools we have today, the researchers noticed the presence of an empty bottle under the little girl's head. It seems that it was a common practice to insert a bottle in the coffin containing the reagent capable of preventing the formation of mold and ensuring that the body was preserved longer. But why the bottle under Rosalia's head is completely empty remains an inexplicable mystery.