Rosalia Lombardo, the Sleeping Beauty of the Capuchin Catacombs…

by Frank E. Bittinger

 Rosaria 1

There are so many interesting true stories out in the world, stories which fascinate me to no end. One such story concerns Rosalia Lombardo, the Sleeping Beauty of the Capuchin Catacombs.

Born 13 December 1813, little Rosalia died from pneumonia on 6 December 1920. She was one of the last to be entombed in the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo in Sicily. Yes, those famous catacombs.

What makes Rosalia’s story so infamous is not her life or her death but what happened after she died. Technically, what didn’t happen after she died. You see, little Rosalia’s body was embalmed in such a way, using a formula and technique that was thought lost until only recently, that it didn’t decay. So good was the embalming that x-rays of her body have shown intact organs still inside.

The photo below is very nearly the same image I first saw of Rosalia when I read about her for the first time quite a number of years ago and it has stuck with me. It hasn’t haunted me, at least not in a bad way.

 Rosaria 2

The nickname the Sleeping Beauty comes from the very same reason for which Rosalia is famous: for almost a century, little Rosalia looked as if she was a sleeping child instead of an embalmed corpse.

Such was the love her father had for her that he sought out the best embalmer of the time. Yes, the formula and technique used by Alfredo Salafia, a famous embalmer of of his time, preserved Rosalia in such a manner that the first signs of decomposition, mainly a discoloration, did not begin to show until about 2009.

Steps have been taken to help keep Rosalia out of the grips of decomposition. Originally, she reposed in her glass-topped coffin in a small chapel at the end of the catacombs. Now, she and her coffin have been moved and placed in an hermetically sealed glass enclosure filled with nitrogen gas to stave off decay.

I’ve always found myself fascinated with this story. The scientific aspect of the near-perfect embalming technique/formula aside, wouldn’t it be nice to imagine the love her father had for her kept her in such life-like condition for nearly a century?

The Sleeping Beauty is beautifully creepy.

rosalia 3


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