Rosalia Lombardo has been lying in a glass coffin in the Capuchin Crypt in Palermo, Italy, for more than 100 years. She is considered the most beautiful mummy in the world.
A famous embalmer performed the magic of her face. But he took the secret of his art with him to the grave. Now an Italian researcher has managed to solve the mystery.
Rosalia Lombardo: The "Snow White of Sicily"
Even today, Rosalia Lombardo looks like a sleeping little girl. With her gently tanned, softly shimmering skin and the yellow bow in her chin-length, silky hair, she enchants people every day. And yet the Italian has been dead for around 100 years.
The little girl in the glass coffin in the underground Capuchin crypt in Palermo, southern Italy, died from the notorious Spanish flu. At the beginning of the last century, the disease killed at least 25 million people between 1918 and 1920. Today, many consider Rosalia Lombardo the "most beautiful mummy in the world." Thanks to two people, the magic of her childlike face could be preserved: Rosalia's father and the embalmer Alfredo Salafia.
Burials in the Capuchin Crypt
The Capuchin monastery was built in 1534, the crypt in 1599.
Until 1670, Capuchins were mainly buried in the catacombs. Corpses showing little sign of decomposition were lined up against the walls.
Later, upper-class members were also buried in the Capuchin crypt - until burials were banned at the end of the 19th century. But there were exceptions: for example, the burial of the mummy of little Rosalia Lombardo.
Father Mario Could Not Bear The Death Of His Daughter
Rosalia Lombardo was born on December 13, 1918, as the daughter of General Mario Lombardo in the Sicilian capital of Palermo. When his daughter Rosalia Lombardo succumbed to the plague in 1920, her father did not want to accept her fate.
Never seeing the child again seemed unthinkable to Mario. In desperation, he turned to a family friend, the embalmer Alfredo Salafia, already famous beyond Sicily.
Not only did he perform the miracle of "the most beautiful mummy in the world," but he also convinced the Capuchin monks of Palermo to place the girl in their crypt at a time when this was actually no longer possible.
However, 13 years later, he took the secret of the perfect mummy with him to his grave. He was struck down at the age of about 64 by a stroke. Around 75 years after his death, an Italian anthropologist from Palermo has solved the riddle.
Dario Piombino Mascali from the University of Palermo, employed at the South Tyrol research center EURAC, found a manuscript in Salafia's estate in which the mummy master reveals his secret.
"I've been researching to solve Rosalia's mystery since 1999," explains Piombino Mascali, who also knows the girl's family. In this respect, the discovery of the manuscript, "New Special Method for the Preservation of the Entire Human Cadaver in the State of Permanent Freshness," was initially a personal and emotional success.
But the significance of unraveling Salafia's embalming techniques goes far beyond that.
How Rosalia Lombardo Became The Most Beautiful Mummy In The World
"It is a historical-medical discovery of enormous importance," said the researcher. "The solution used by Salafia for embalming is one of the first examples of the use of formaldehyde for this purpose."
This is still the fundamental solution in human embalming today. For example, Salafia injected a mixture of glycerine and formalin - an aqueous formaldehyde solution - enriched with zinc sulfate and chlorides and an alcohol solution with salicylic acid into Rosalia's veins.
To exchange the blood for the preservation fluid, he put a cannula in an artery in the thigh and then hung the container with the mixture over Rosalia Lombardo's body. Gravity did the rest, with the blood drained through a vein cut.
"Previously, it was only known that Salafia exchanged the blood for another liquid. Now we know that he was a pioneer of modern embalming," said the researcher enthusiastically. "He was also the first to pay attention to the aesthetic aspect and to avoid the poisons arsenic and mercury, which are harmful to embalmers," says Piombino.
Albert Zink, who is in charge of the EURAC mummies institute, also found out with special X-rays that the zinc sulfate also preserved all internal organs. This certainly makes Rosalia one of the most important mummies of the 20th century.
In addition to Rosalia Lombardo, the mummies of the Italian politician Francesco Crispi (1819-1901) and the archbishop of Palermo Pietro Michelangelo Celesia (1814-1904) also belong to Alfredo Salafia's master mummies.
The Rosalia Lombardo Case Has Fascinated Thousands Of People
Of the more than 2,000 mummies in the crypt under the Capuchin monastery in Palermo, the mummy of Rosalia Lombardo is the most famous. It attracts numerous tourists from around the world to the catacombs. To protect the mummy from camera flashes and other external influences, Rosalia Lombardo was buried in a glass coffin in 2012.
The child with a transparent look, blond hair, and fair skin attracts hundreds of thousands of curious people every year because she is one of the best-preserved mummies in the world. Even the smallest hairs can be seen on the child's face.
Her body has been preserved so well that many feel she is alive. This has led to rumors that, at times, Rosalia Lombardo opens her eyes.
Many visitors who flock to see the blonde girl reported seeing her eyes slowly open. In fact, there are some photos taken in this way that still look like Rosalia Lombardo is opening her eyes.
Of course, such a story spread quickly, and today the internet is full of articles about "the mummy who can open his eyes." But in 2009, Italian anthropologist Dario Piombino-Mascali shattered the myth built around the Rosalia Lombardo case. "It's an optical illusion produced by the light filtered by the side windows. During the day, the light changes," he said.
In any case, the enigma of Rosalia Lombardo, the sleeping beauty of Sicily, continues to attract the world's attention.