Rosalia Lombardo: The Child Mummy
The Most Beautiful Mummy in the World
She's known by many names; the Girl in the Glass Coffin, Sleeping Beauty, the World's Most Beautiful Mummy, the Best Preserved Mummy in the World. In death she's become something larger than life. Thousands of visitors each year flock to the Sicilian Catacombs just to catch a glimpse of her tiny body.
Nearly 100 years after her death, Rosalia has changed little. Still sealed inside her tiny glass coffin, Rosalia sleeps, her little head pokes above a fading silk blanket. Tuffs of blonde hair still flow down her cheeks, a silk bow still tied firmly around her head. The only sign time has passed is an oxidizing amulet of the Virgin Mary which rests atop Rosalia's blanket. It's so faded, it's almost unrecognizable. This is the Rosalia Lombardo, the famous child mummy.
So who exactly was Rosalia? In the nearly 100 years since her death in 1920, Rosalia has become interwoven with Sicilian lore. They tell of a young child, born frail and weak, who endured more pain and sickness throughout her short life than most do in their lifetimes. Her premature death at age two left her father grief stricken. Unable to lose his daughter the father sought the help of embalmer Alfredo Salafia, to preserve Rosalia for eternity. The result was nothing short of miraculous. Through Salafia's embalming process, Rosalia was perfectly preserved. Fitting to her new state of immortality, she was placed inside a glass coffin and interred inside the Capuchin Catacombs of Sicily.
Veritably, the truth about Rosalia's life has been lost to time. Some say she was the daughter of a wealthy Sicilian noble, a general in the Italian military named Mario Lombardo. The general, according to legend, wanted to preserve his only daughter for eternity and consequentially contacted Alfredo Salafia to embalm her. There are no known photographs of Rosalia alive nor any official documents confirming definitively who her parents were.
Embalmer Alfredo Salafia performed the procedure that would preserve Rosalia. For nearly a century, the exact formula remained a mystery, lost to the grave with Salafia. In 2009, a biological anthropologist named Dario Piombino-Mascali tracked down the eternal formula through Salafia's living decedents.
The chemicals included formalin, zinc salt, alcohol, salicylic acid and glycerin. The combination of alcohol and the climate conditions within the catacombs would have dried Rosalia's body, Glycerin would have allowed the body to mummify and salicylic acid prevented the growth of mold. The magic ingredient was zinc which gave the body rigidity, essentially turning it into wax.
Real or Fake?
Because of the near perfect nature of Rosalia's body, some skeptics claimed that the real body was replaced with a realistic wax replica. Such a theory became one of the topics of a History Channel documentary in the 2000s. In it, x-ray equipment was brought to the catacombs and Rosalia's coffin was x-rayed for the first time in its existence. They discovered not only a skeletal structure but that her organs were still intact. Her brain was perfectly visible only having shrunk 50% due to the mummification process.
In 2009, a National Geographic documentary had an MRI performed on the body, producing the first 3D images of Rosalia both inside and out. The MRI confirmed all of her organs were perfectly intact. It also showed her arms at her sides. Nobody has ever looked underneath the blanket that covers Rosalia's body since she was sealed inside her coffin 90 years ago.
The Mystery of Rosalia's Eyes
Further adding to the lore of Rosalia's mummy are reports of her eyes opening!. Several time-lapse photos exist that appear to substantiate this claim, showing them opening at least 1/8 of an inch, revealing her intact blue eyes underneath. The most likely cause of this rather creepy phenomenon is changes in room temperature or simply an optical illusion. Yet it's fueled many cult believes of Rosalia's spirit returning to the body and is Rosalia's most infamous myth.
Rosalia's perfect mummy exemplifies humans' fascination with death. As the innocence of the young toddler is forever frozen in time, the quality of her beauty captures the imagination of generation after generation. Her corpse receives more visitors than any other mummy in the Catacombs. Many artists have used Rosalia as an inspiration over the years.