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Capuchin CatacombsBy Anthony Parente
In the 16th century local priests decided to mummify the body of the holy monk, Brother Silvestro. They felt this would be a great way to preserve his body so they could pray to him after his death. The initial intention was that only monks would be preserved this way and housed in the Catacombs. When others heard of this they too wanted to be able to preserve their loved ones so they could visit them and grieve their loss.
The process of mummification was initially done by laying the bodies in rooms located within the Catacombs. The bodies would undergo a process of dehydration. Once this process was complete they would wash the bodies in vinegar. In addition to the process of dehydration some of the bodies were embalmed to help preserve their appearance and some were enclosed in sealed glass. Once the mummies were ready they would be clothed and placed on the walls. The Catacombs are divided into groups. There is a section for priests & monks, men, women, children and professionals. All in all some 8000 individuals fill the catacombs, which are open to the public.
While discussing the Catacombs with Sicula, a regular on the Italian Culture Forum, I was told of an interesting story passed down from family lore. It appears that Sicula's grandfather and his buddies enjoyed pulling pranks. In fact they would sneak in the monastery and take off with one of the mummies, only to return it later. If you have any stories of family lore that you would like to share please send me an email.
These bodies are both a look into the past as well as the future. For that reason the Catacombs are not for the faint of heart and it is definitely not a place you want to take your children. It can be quite disturbing to see the bodies, especially those of children, decorating the walls of a catacomb and this isn't an image that children should remember.
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