The true story of Rosalia Lombardo

 rosalia lombardoShe is also known as the sleeping beauty or the little girl in the glass coffin. I am discussing about Rosalia Lombardo, the best preserved mummy in the world. Rosalia Lombardo is indeed the last embalmed body admitted in the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo, also known as the capuchin crypt. I have already written a post about this famous Sicilian crypt and on that occasion I promised I would deepen the true story of Rosalia Lombardo. The latter was a Sicilian little girl born in 1918 and dead in 1920 of pneumonia, at just two years.

Rosalia Lombardo’s father, official Mario Lombardo, was severely upset by the death of his loved daughter and contacted a famous Sicilian embalmer, Alfredo Salafia, to preserve the body of Rosalia. The embalming method remained top secret for many years, and only recently a handwritten memoir revealed the method. Rosalia Lombardo was embalmed with a modern technique which was fully different from the one used by the ancient Egyptians.

In the memoir, it is only written that Rosalia Lombardo was embalmed by using “one part glycerine, one part formalin saturated with both zinc sulphate and chloride, and one part of an alcohol solution saturated with salicylic acid.” Zinc sulphate gave rigidity to the body, while the other compounds dried the mummy and preserved the inner organs. Furthermore, salicylic acid, the common medicine everyone uses to heal headaches and other painful diseases, killed fungi and bacteria.

This seems a strange twist of fate because the little girl died because penicillin was not discovered yet in her epoch and this medicine was the only one who could save her from pneumonia. Penicillin was indeed discovered in 1929 by Alexander Fleming.

Anyway, unwilling to accept the death of the daughter, the official Mario Lombardo preferred to embalm the body and bury it in the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo. This crypt keeps almost 18000 corpses, among these, the one of the monks and noble Sicilian people. The body of the little girl lies in the crypt of the children and is the best preserved among the ones kept in the whole crypt. It is a bit of morbid to exhibit a dead little girl to tourists, even because, the parents of Rosalia died, also, meanwhile.

Every year, thousands of tourists coming from all over the world, visit the Capuchin catacombs to admire and take images of the dead little girl. Her body is still good preserved and also embellished with a ribbon on the head, the original and true ribbon she had worn during her short life. The little girl seems to sleep. I disagree with the option to publicly display a child’s mummy forever, but this was the voluntary choice of a grieved and inconsolable father. Over the years, a lot of speculation was made about the mummy, such as, for example, the mummy was replaced with the perfect wax reproduction built after the decaying of the true body of Rosalia Lombardo.

optical illusion rosalia lombardoThis is a false news because after a ray x test , it has been showed this is the true mummy of the little girl, the test also showed the brain and the well preserved inner organs. Another speculation came out from an alleged supernatural phenomenon, according to which, abruptly, the sleeping little girl opens and closes eyes ( see the image) while tourists look at her. Many people believe the spirit of the little girl is still in the crypt. This is a morbid and silly explanation, while the phenomenon is due to temperature variation of the crypt.

Sicily weather is, indeed, typically Mediterranean and with a high rate of moisture. During the wet days it is possible the eyes of the mummy swell and during the dry ones they close back. In reality, Rosalia Lombardo died with the half-open eyes. But I don’t want to talk about her anymore. This is a sort of defiance to the death wanted by a father and today it is the symbol of an eternal beauty and a sweet tenderness that deserve silence and respect and if you want, some prayer also.

However, if you want to pray for this little girl on the spot, you can book a tour to the capuchin catacombs here.

Source of the image:

12 thoughts on “The true story of Rosalia Lombardo

  1. Pingback: The Capuchin Chapel - SICILY ON WEB

  2. Shell

    Hello, I wanted to say thank you for writing this! It was a very well written article and very respectful to her family . She was a very beautiful child, I can’t even imagine the heartbreak her parents had to live with. I have never been to Italy but it is my dream to someday visit . May she Rest In Peace .

    1. Rosalba

      Hi Shell, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for appreciating this article. I simply tried to inform people about the sad story of this unlucky little girl. I was unaware of the style I used to respect this Sicilian family, above all because I am not a native English speaker. You provided me with a useful answer. Thank you so much again. I hope you’ll visit Sicily, someday.

  3. Karen

    First I would like to compliment you on your English, it is excellent and this article is well written. Indeed people forget this little girl lived, however short her life was. She was loved by many. I hope tourists respect that and avoid taking any further pictures of her. There are enough existing ones but to constantly use camera and flash on this little girl is very sad as this is supposed to be her chosen resting place. May she rest in peace and may her memory live on as her story is shared and thoughts spared for her by those who visit and stop to think. To appreciate the hard work of many people who continue to advance medicine and save our loved ones from illnesses this little girl couldn’t be saved from.

    1. Rosalba

      Thank you so much Karen for your kind comment about this post and my English. I am very happy you appreciate all this. Yes, you are right, there is a morbid interest about this little mummy in the world. I really hope this little girl may rest in peace. She does not deserve annoying pictures taken by uncaring visitors, but only many prayers.

  4. Rosemary Attard

    Hello. I recently visited the Cattacoombes in Sicily. After seeing it on TV with the top to toe of Italy. I found them fasinating. The little girl Rosalie was a beautiful child. But sad for her that she cannot rest in peace.

    1. Rosalba

      Hi Rosemary, thank you so much for sharing your experience on this blog.
      I am happy you visited the catacombes in Palermo. Unfortunately, the story of this little girl is still very sad. She should rest in peace, as I said in my article. When people visit her, it would be nice to say some prayers.

  5. dr.nicholas von kerckhoff

    I visited the place two times and will come back to do some paintings of Rosalia-with all respects.

  6. Pingback: Palermo – SICILY ON WEB

    1. Rosalba Mancuso

      Hi Mike, your piece is very detailed and informative. Thank you so much for letting me know about the link.

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