The Corpse that Amazes: Rosalia Lombardo

In December of 1920, a young girl at the age of two dies in Palermo, Sicily from Pneumonia.  Grief stricken, her father who absolutely adored her, could not let go.  He decided to ensure his daughter Rosalia Lombardo would live on even in death.

Alfredo Salafia, a chemist and embalmer, was assigned to work on this precious, young girl after her death.  Salafia was about to create a work of art that would shock the rest of the world for almost 80 plus years.  He created an embalming solution so good that Rosalia would not show signs of decay until this decade.

She lies in rest at the Capuchin Catacombs.  This is a place that preserved bodies in a way that most people thought was unnatural. The cause for this preservation wasn’t a miracle or anything holy, but rather it was the environment.  The catacombs are made of volcanic ash which creates a low humidity atmosphere perfect for preserving bodies.  However, this environment was not the “true” factor in the preservation of Rosalia.

Rosalia’s preservation is due to the coffin and the embalming solution used.  Salafia understood that the solution was perfect but more factors had to apply, meaning all natural environmental factors (water, humidity, air) had to be removed.  Therefore, after he finished embalming Rosalia, he sealed her coffin with glass, which made an air tight encasement.

Placing her in the Capuchin Catacombs helped regulate the atmosphere around her, thus making the “perfect” place for her body.

Over the years Capuchin Monks added another piece of glass over the original glass pane on Rosalia’s coffin. What they didn’t know was this would be the worst thing they could do; instead of trying to preserve her body, they made it worse.  That wasn’t just their fault.  Over the years the climate changed in the catacombs, and more and more moisture seeped in causing a rapid decaying process to take place on the mummies entombed there.

It still was a very slow process, almost unseen to the untrained eye on Rosalia, but the elements started to catch up and soon affected Rosalia’s body even more than in previous years.  The Monks realized something had to be done and brought in top scientists from across the country.

What they found would be critical in preserving Rosalia’s body, and would finally tell the true cause of her death.

The scientists scanned the body of Rosalia inside her coffin.  Salafia had laid her in a lead lined coffin to aid in the preservation process, making the CT scan almost impossible.  Despite the lead, scientists were able to gain a clear composite scan of Rosalia and discovered her organs were almost perfectly intact.  This showed  that she died from Pneumonia for sure back in December of 1920.  They also realized that Salafia didn’t create a wax figure, making his work more remarkable.

What they also found out was that the decomposition was minimal at the least.  Providing a dry environment and killing the fungus on her would be the solution to preserving Rosalia into the future.  After the scan was complete, they went to work on a device that would halt her decomposition.  Today she is laid to rest inside a machine that still gives visitors access to see the body, yet preserves her in a controlled environment unlike before.

Regardless of where the scientists are around the world, they will be able to see the elements in real time and can therefore adjust the temperature, humidity and air flow from a computer; a remarkable feat in itself.