Rosalia Lombardo : Facts and History

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Rosalia Lombardo the most beautiful mummy in the world, Rosalia Lombardo, the mummified child who lies at the Catacombs of the Capuchins , once again speaks for itself.    

Many years ago, a beautiful little girl, coming into the world, had made her parents immensely happy; but just two years after the happy event, the little heart of the little girl ceased forever to beat, leaving those who had loved her so dismayed and annihilated. But this is not a fairy tale with a sad ending but the true story of Rosalia.          


Rosalia Lombardo was born in Palermo on December 13th 1918 and his parents, Mario Lombardo, infantry officer, and Maria Di Cara, are immensely happy. The couple, at the birth of Rosalia, is not united in marriage, it will do so about seven months after the birth of the child, and therefore it seems that the atmosphere in this family of the first decades of the last century is very serene and peaceful , but soon everything will change. Rosalia, in fact, on December 6, just before her second year of life will fall asleep forever. The death is caused by bronchopneumonia but the certainty is not absolute, because the memory of those who had the opportunity over the years to tell about these facts speaks of diphtheria or typhoid. However, the doubt about the cause of death is linked to the fact that those who died of this type of disease, they had to be wrapped in a sheet, impregnated with mercury bichloride and transported with a special cart to the burial cemetery. Therefore, if the cause of Rosalia’s death had been one of these illnesses, the little body could not have received the treatment to which it was subjected at the behest of the two broken parents.  When the child died, the father destroyed by the pain decided to use the embalming to make her live forever. Alfredo Salafia took care of it using cutting-edge techniques, the formula he used was discovered only in 2009. The mysterious formula was a mixture of formalin, glycerin, zinc salts, alcohol and salicylic acid.

According to a recent study, the “Sleeping Beauty” of Palermo would open its eyes every day and then close them again on time. A camera was placed on the case in which the child lies, and was programmed to take a picture every hour. Comparing the images, the change is quite obvious. Rosalia’s little mummy sometimes gives the impression of being a living child, also due to the fact that she is in a practically perfect state of conservation.

In the Catacombs of the Capuchins of Palermo there are several other mummies, but undoubtedly that of Rosalia Lombardo is unique.


The child had been embalmed by ALFREDO SALAFIA, a self-taught embalmer who put a lot of attention into the aesthetic aspect: the sheet covers the whole body but the child’s head was left uncovered, as if to accentuate the impression of a peaceful sleep.

This unusual phenomenon would appear to be a miracle, and the news quickly went around the world, even if the whole event has already found a scientific explanation. The variation in the opening of the eyelids would in fact be due to a change in humidity inside the case, which over the years would also have caused changes to the child’s body, such as hair color. 
            The perfect state of preservation of the small mummy, preserved intact since 1920, is due to the meticulous embalming work carried out by Dr. Alfredo Salafia, a true luminary in the art of preserving the dead. Rosalia’s fame for us is not new, but these days the whole world is becoming aware of this phenomenon.
This further discovery is added to the already full aura of mystery that surrounds Sleeping Beauty, and increases its appeal to the eyes of visitors who come to see it from all over the world.

Now there are those who speak of a “miracle” and those of a supernatural phenomenon. However, everyone agrees that the little Rosalia “opens and closes her eyes”.


               After days of silence, the Capuchins made it clear that there is no mystery about Rosalia Lombardo’s mummy and denied the news to stop “speculation and morbid attention”. “They are – they explain – an optical illusion produced by the light that filters through the side windows”.

Alfredo Salafia: what method he used for his embalmment

But what was the method used by the “professor” Salafia, who owes his title to the work carried out successfully in the United States, where he moved for a few years together with a nephew, Achille Salomone, his collaborator? Alfredo Salafia was an autodidact, he did not do academic studies, but his knowledge of chemistry and anatomy and his personal studies attested at least a medium education. He initially applied his method to animal bodies by treating them with a mixture of chemical substances, then in 1900 he began experimenting with human corpses at Professor Randaccio’s anatomical school with surprising results. The bodies that he was able to treat, even years after his death, appeared to be in an excellent state of preservation, as if death had caught them a short time before.

The mixture prepared by Salafia and injected into the corpse by incision of a femoral artery is a composition based on glycerin, formalin, zinc salts, alcohol and salicylic acid. More care was given to the face with paraffin-based treatments dissolved in ether to give turgidity and make post-mortal changes less noticeable. The body was then placed inside a glass coffin with a paraffin-bonded glass lid, which in turn was closed in a wooden case with a hinged lid.


During the course of some studies recently carried out on the body of little Rosalia, it is evident that the brain, liver and lungs are still preserved intact, even if the face has slightly darkened, the hair is lightened, and the eyes seem slightly half-closed, as if to want wake up from that eternal sleep that has made this little girl famous all over the world. Precisely this was the reason why the small coffin today was placed inside a steel case, composed of two thick glasses that shield the effect of light and the flashes of the many visitors, and the humidity is constantly monitored . Rosalia then continues undisturbed in her sleep, surrounded by about 8000 corpses, even though she is the only one who looks like a sleeper.

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Indeed, Standing or lying mummies are divided into sectors, by gender and social category, although, given that the embalming method was quite expensive, most of them belong to high social classes. However, there are also many Capuchin friars and in fact the first to be buried in the crypt was Friar Silvestro da Gubbio on 16 October 1599.

But at this point it is legitimate to ask where is the tomb of professor Salafia, the one who had given the incorruptibility to so many dead people during his lifetime. It may seem a paradox but nothing remains of Alfredo Salafia, not even a tomb where he can lay a flower. He died suddenly on 31 January 1933 due to a cerebral hemorrhage, his body was buried on 1 February in the Cemetery of Santa Maria di Gesù in the family chapel of the Mancino family, next to the body of his mother, his first wife, and three other people including the canon Salvatore Mancino.

But the lack of places and the lack of burial in the chapel of other corpses for more than 50 years has allowed for an estumulation to be carried out at the beginning of this century, attributing to other owners the area. Alfredo Salafia had been buried in a blue suit and the discovery of his body, with the exception of the suit that had been preserved, nothing else remained, only a few bone fragments, making a reduction for the ossuary impracticable.

It almost seems a mockery of destiny for the man who, through his studies and experiments, had given almost a form of immortality to famous people and not, stopping the fateful moment of death in a sort of eternal sleep, giving those faces a serenity that inexorably would have lost within a few days of their death.


One last thought goes to Rosalia, a small and sweet child, torn from life early, but who, thanks to the work of this man, unfortunately forgotten by posterity in her city, continues with her sweet little face, her upturned nose and the yellow bow in golden hair, to charm us men of the XXI century, accustomed to the age of technology but fascinated and captivated by the “miracle” that a man of the last century managed to do with a simple formula, to “stop” the instant that in a short time makes us all the same … ashes and only ashes

The Capuchin Convent where Rosalia Lombardo rests

Little Rosalia Lombardo rests in the Capuchin Convent in Palermo, in the Cuba district, next to the Church of Santa Maria della Pace. Both the Church and the Convent date back to the 16th century, although built on earlier structures. In the basement it is possible to visit the Catacombs of the Capuchins.

The Convent is known throughout the world for the presence in its basement of a vast cemetery, which attracts the curiosity of many tourists. The macabre spectacle of the countless corpses on display, like that of the sleeping little girl from Palermo, is a starting point for reflection on the transience of life, on earthly vanities and on the uselessness of the attachment of men to their external features.

The galleries were excavated at the end of the 1500s and form a large rectangular cemetery. The bodies present there have never been inventoried, but it has been calculated that they must reach the figure of about 8,000 bodies.

The mummies, standing or lying down, dressed up all over, are divided by sex and social category, even though most of them belong to the upper classes, since the embalming process was expensive. In the various sectors we recognize: prelates; traders and bourgeois in their “Sunday” clothes; army officers in gala uniform; young virgin women, deceased before they could get married, dressed in their wedding dress; family groups standing on high shelves, bordered by thin railings similar to balconies; children, like Rosalia Lombardo.

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