venerdì 30 ottobre 2015

A frightening visit: the Catacomb of Capuchins

There is a huge tunnel in front of me. There are a lot of skeletons in front of me, stand near the walls. 
They are all dressed with clothes of old ages: some of them look up, others down and others seem to stare at me with their empty eye sockets. I see some of them that seem to sneer and others seem to scream in fear.  There are skeletons of men, women and even children in this macabre and frightening place.

No, I am not talking about a horror fiction or a nightmare. Actually, this place really exists and I think it might be the right topic now that Halloween comes.  I am talking about the catacomb of Capuchins in Palermo.

I must admit that this might not be the right place for everyone. Even though I am not an easy impressionable person, I ran near my mates once entered the catacomb. The distance between visitors and the deceased is really little.

As I said above, the skeletons are dressed with the clothes of the time in which they died, that is to say the 17th - 19th century, and some of them are so well preserved that they still have hair and moustache. This labyrinth is divided by categories: there are men, children, women and girls who look like dolls in their cute dresses, in their niches, professionals and even virgins, and then religious men.

The custom of mummification was spread in the whole south of Italy and in particular here in Palermo. 

At the beginning just Capuchins were buried in the catacomb. When they discovered that in this place corps tended to get mummified naturally, monks started to welcome more corps, not just religious people but eminent people of Palermo too, who, in change, donated a lot to the convent. 

But why did they mummify corps?

In this way, alive relatives had the possibility not just to grieve for their loved ones, but to see them personally too, to "pay them a visit", as they were still alive.

This cemetery was closed in 1880. They made an exception just twice: in 1911 for Giovanni Paterniti, US vice-consul, and in 1922 for Rosalia Lombardo, dead at just two years old and known nowadays as the most beautiful mummy of the world.   

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