In the depths of the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo in Sicily lies the dead body of a young girl in a wooden and glass casket. The name of that girl is Rosalia Lombardo, who tragically died due to pneumonia in 1920, at the age of two. The heartbroken father of Rosalia sought the help of an embalmer named Alfredo Salafia to preserve his child’s body. The body was so amazingly preserved that Rosalia’s body is intact over 100 years later. It is considered one of the best-preserved mummies in the world.
The body of Rosalia is famous among the 8,000 bodies present in these catacombs under the Capuchin convent. Rosalia’s dead body has caught the attention of everyone, as people have noticed her eyelids move many times, seeming like she is blinking. The eyes slightly open and reveal the intact blue irises.
She lies in the coffin, glass-covered and on a wooden pedestal. She looks like a baby peacefully taking a nap, and although a blanket is placed over the coffin, the face is visible. Her curly blonde hair and a ribbon on it make her look like she is just sleeping. Indeed, she is nicknamed the “sleeping beauty”.
Rosalia, an Italian child born on December 13 in the year 1918, died due to pneumonia as a result of the Spanish flu less than two years later, on December 6, 1920. Her father, Mario Lombardo, was so grief stricken that he asked an embalmer to preserve Rosalia’s remains. Alfredo Salafia, a taxidermist, and a skillful embalmer, then mummified the dead body of Rosalia Lombardo with impressive skill, preserving her so well that even her internal organs were kept intact.
A century has passed, but her corpse still looks like the little girl is just dozing under the glass case of the casket. Indeed, it is quite difficult to gaze at the little body lying in the glass coffin and still not believe that the girl will awaken at any moment. The skin of Rosalia still appears very smooth, as if it is made of porcelain. Her golden blonde hair is very neatly tied with a beautiful silk bow.
In 2009, an MRI scan of the little girl was performed, to see the state of preservation of the interior of the body. The first 3D image of Rosalia revealed that all the organs of her body are perfectly intact even after so many decades.
Moreover, her striking crystal blue eyes are also visible underneath the blonde eyelashes. Rosalia’s gaze is something that has attracted onlookers to Palermo for a hundred years. Thousands of visitors from across the world have come to see the girl, intrigued by the many reports that the eyes of the dead body are blinking.
People have witnessed that her eyes open slowly, and that the eyes seem to glisten due to the low lights in the catacombs. These blue eyes, like the rest of her body, are remarkably intact. Not only do visitors swear that the little girl’s eyes blink, but many sequences of photographs seem to confirm that her eyelids open and close a little. This mystery of blinking eyes, and the well-preserved body is what makes Rosalia’s mummy so fascinating.
The Mystery is Solved
The blinking mummy’s mystery became famous across the world. People were curious to know what was causing the dead body to blink. Some believed that some supernatural force was at work, and that the mummy actually blinked. Many others thought that the eyes might blink due to the temperature changes inside the catacomb, which made her eyelids contract and thus produced the blink-like effect.
It was still a mystery until the curator of Capuchin catacombs, Dario Piombino-Mascali, proved a new theory. The Italian biological anthropologist was able to debunk the myths about Rosalia Lombardo.
According to Piombino-Mascali, the blinking eyes of Rosalia were just an optical illusion, caused when light from windows strikes her eyes at different angles. The changing direction of the light through the day makes Rosalia’s eyes seem to open and close many times.
Piombino-Mascali made this amazing discovery in 2009 after some of the workers in the museum moved her coffin, which caused her body to shift a little bit. This shifting of her body allowed Piombino-Mascali to see her eyelids from a new angle. The anthropologist then realized that her eyes were actually never closed, and it had only been a trick of the light that made them seem so.
How was She So Perfectly Preserved?
Not only was the eye blinking mystery solved by Piombino-Mascali, but he also managed to track down the embalming formula Alfredo Salafia used to preserve the body of Rosalia in such impeccable condition. In 1933 when the Sicilian embalmer passed away, he wrote down the secret formula of the preservation. Piombino-Mascali, in trying to find out the formula, tracked down the living relatives of the embalmer.
There he found Salafia’s surviving records. When he uncovered this trove of the embalmer’s papers, he stumbled upon the document where the embalmer recorded all the chemicals that were injected in the body of Rosalia.
The typical embalming procedures include the complete removal of organs. The empty body is then filled with natron salts, which desiccate it. But Salafia did something different. He made a small puncture and injected a mixture of zinc salts, formalin, glycerin, and salicylic acid. The combination of these ingredients worked to preserve the body.
The formalin wiped out all the bacteria, and the salicylic acid helped in removing any fungi present in the flesh. Glycerin prevented her body from desiccating or drying out. But the magical element was the zinc salts which gave Rosalia’s body rigidity. The salts preserved her appearance perfectly, even preventing her nasal cavities and her cheeks from caving in.
Rosalia’s body is now preserved in a new glass coffin, which is designed to block the growth of fungi or bacteria. The glass case also protects the body from any effects of light. Piombino-Mascali hopes that visitors will stop making any new stories about the little child mummy.
Top Image: Rosalia Lombardo. Source: Sibeaster / Public Domain.
By Bipin Dimri
Rosalia Lombardo: The Mummy That Blinks. Available at: https://www.amusingplanet.com/2017/01/rosalia-lombardo-mummy-that-blinks.html
Mystery of The Blinking Child Mummy Solved. Available at: https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2014/06/mystery-of-blinking-child-mummy-solved.html