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The Fascinating Story of Rosalia Lombardo, the Child Mummy

Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

Mummies are old, but sometimes they're also young

Mummies are old, but sometimes they're also young

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 flowing down her cheeks, a silk bow still tied firmly around her head. The only sign of 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.

General Mario Lombardo. Rosalia's supposed father

General Mario Lombardo. Rosalia's supposed father


So who exactly was Rosalia? In the 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.

This photo taken in the 1970s of Rosalia. Notice the hinged wooden coffin lid to the left, which has since been removed. Only the glass lid remains

This photo taken in the 1970s of Rosalia. Notice the hinged wooden coffin lid to the left, which has since been removed. Only the glass lid remains

A caretaker at the catacombs overlays a second sheet of glass over Rosalia's coffin for added protection

A caretaker at the catacombs overlays a second sheet of glass over Rosalia's coffin for added protection

Rosalia inside her tiny glass coffin. Nobody has opened it since she was placed inside. Notice the lid shown in the photo above has been removed

Rosalia inside her tiny glass coffin. Nobody has opened it since she was placed inside. Notice the lid shown in the photo above has been removed

Alfredo Salafia

Alfredo Salafia


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.

The x-ray of Rosalia showing her brain and liver intact. The grid is of the coffin beneath the body

The x-ray of Rosalia showing her brain and liver intact. The grid is of the coffin beneath the body

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 X-Ray in progress

The X-Ray in progress

This remarkable x-ray clearly shows Rosalia's arms and feet

This remarkable x-ray clearly shows Rosalia's arms and feet

CAT Scan Rendering of Rosalia's Internal Organs

In this recent photo, Rosalia's left eye is partially open, revealing an intact iris underneath

In this recent photo, Rosalia's left eye is partially open, revealing an intact iris underneath

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 changes in room temperature or simply an optical illusion. Yet it's fueled many a cult's belief of Rosalia's spirit returning to the body and is Rosalia's most infamous myth.

Cultural Influence

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.

An artist recreation of Rosalia as a teenager

An artist recreation of Rosalia as a teenager

An oil painting of Rosalia. According to the artist, it's their favorite piece

An oil painting of Rosalia. According to the artist, it's their favorite piece

An oil painting of Rosalia by Julie Roberts from the Glasgow School of Art

An oil painting of Rosalia by Julie Roberts from the Glasgow School of Art

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Jason Ponic


june on May 18, 2020:

she would have been 100 years old this year.

Tasha on June 23, 2019:

I visited the catacombs in the last week and she is real she is beautiful i could of sat for hours just looking at her. I would love to know about her life before she died its just a shame she has to be down in a dark corner alone in the catacombs

poop on May 20, 2019:

so beautifull

Mary horton on November 08, 2018:

We went on a trip to sicily and went to the catacombs, We saw here there,very interesting

Druscilla1929 on August 15, 2018:

She is a mummy but she looks still like a real child because she was embalmed by an expert she still has the face she had on the day she died. That shows there is no fear in death. She looks like a beautiful sleeping beauty and all about Rosalia Lombardo in the catacombs of Palermo, Sicily is true. Her face looks unblemished as she was emblamed in the proper way sadly she died so young. I do understand that her grieving parents wanted her to look forever beautiful and that the had her embalmed and put in a glass coffin so they could believe ''our daughter is not dead but only sleeping.

Annalise on May 19, 2018:

Why would someone say this: "Omg how stupit people are that little girl is still alive how horrible somebody in authority needs to do something to help her how horrible" Of course she is dead!!! She would be 98 years old right now if she was alive.

Frances Shilts on May 08, 2018:

I had the chance to visit the catacombs in Palermo, Sicily back in 1986. Sleeping Beauty was so beautiful. I was amazed that she looked like she was sleeping. I still have the photo I took of her. The rest of the catacombs were something to see. I will never forget my visit.

timmy on April 20, 2018:

wow this is cool

titi on March 30, 2018:

that is SO SAD!!!!!!

bree on January 10, 2018:

i dont know why but for some reason i have been fascinated with mummies for about three or four years. rosalia is my favorite by far. i want to see her in real life so bad but i guess that life has a different idea.

Evalyn on December 01, 2017:

wow i learned more info thank you

Aish on November 23, 2017:

Amazing story.....i feel bad for the child but the science behind is really beautiful

Sunday Jean on June 24, 2017:

What happened to the babie's Mother? She was never mentioned.

Patricia on October 07, 2016:

I believe the parents have long been reunited with their precious child- considering how

The story began isn' t that most important?

Patricia on October 04, 2016:

Disturbingly beautiful-scientifically fascinating- unforgettable

hoomanwithheart on October 02, 2016:

I actually felt very sad for her, she should rest in peace not stay in glass coffin for everybody to enjoy and experimenting on her. Such a beautiful child yet suffer so much during her lifetimes.

annie on August 04, 2016:

is she dead or not then

Darlene bobczyk on June 29, 2016:

Omg how stupit people are that little girl is still alive how horrible somebody in authority needs to do something to help her how horrible

josevata smith on December 17, 2015:

A very interesting yet usefully resources about her.....

Thanks for publishing this

I'm from Fiji

danischiazza on September 13, 2015:

she is beautiful, I find it aggravating though that there is not more info on her father and mother, it says "supposed father" how the fuck don't they know who the parents are, that drives me crazy, but I think she looks very very much like the "supposed" father Mario.

Howard Schneider from Parsippany, New Jersey on January 31, 2015:

Very interesting Hub, Jason. Rosalia is remarkably preserved.

Erin Hennessy from Minnesota, United States on January 25, 2015:

I've always been fascinated with Rosalia's story. Thank you for a very informative and interesting read.

Melissa Reese Etheridge from Tennessee, United States on January 22, 2015:

Thank you for sharing. I may share this with my sixth-graders.

April Dawn Meyer from Belle Fourche, South Dakota on January 22, 2015:

Wow! I have never heard of this before. How interesting! I am glad you shared it. :)

Courtney Rhodes on January 22, 2015:

Very strange and heartbreaking really. Interesting hub!

marcellinegee on January 13, 2015:

Before today, I have not heard of Rosalia Lombardo. Very interesting though heartbreaking. Death at a stand still.

fahad ansari from Greater Noida on January 13, 2015:

it was the great discovery in the world of archeology and also science. thanks jason sir your hub is a knowledge giving as a always and a good inspiration for newcomers like us.

sjbrenner from Minnesota on November 02, 2014:

History at its most fascinating! I've heard of little Rosalia before but found this hub to be interesting.

Michelle on October 25, 2014:

I do not feel sorry for the chold passing at such a young age; she knows no different. My heart goes out to the father who felt compelled to hold onto his child. Having lost a son, I view the story froma different perspective.

Ally on September 25, 2014:

Who would want to pu a wax covoring over a precious 2 year old child......

Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on August 17, 2014:

I had a look at Rosalia when I was in Palermo. I could have been looking at a little girl sleeping apart from the disturbing atmosphere of death all round and the feeling that I was on a film set.

The other visitors were all foreigners like myself, the Sicilians didn't seem to care much about the catacombs at all and I understand that perfectly.

Pretty creepy experience all round.

Rebecca Sutton from Rock Hill, SC on July 27, 2014:

Creepy yet fascinating! Loved it! I agree, we are so intrigued by death. I replayed the video several times - just couldn't help myself lol. Too bad is late at night and now I have to go to sleep!

sw110112 on July 08, 2014:

Her skin is a bit shiny, but it is dull shiny. Then that means her skin is real. Humans have kind of have shiny skin, but it is not that shiny. Wax covering is extremely shiny, most of it though.

sw110112 on July 08, 2014:

Seems her skin is chipping off. She is that old, huh?

sw110112 on July 08, 2014:

She has no wax covering on her. That is just a silly rumours. I looked her several of times and she lookes all natural. Her skin does not seem shiny and it was actually this formula that made her body so well. Bet the skeptics did not know that.....

Annabelle Johnson from Charente, France on June 12, 2014:

I found this well written and informative hub really interesting and it held my attention all the way through. The story and the pictures are fascinating. It's amazing to be able to look upon a face from so long ago so beautifully preserved.

Jenn on June 11, 2014:

Clearly the person who created that teenaged version of Rosalia with the sperm on her face is quite disturbed and has some very strange fetishes. You can also tell by looking at the other 'art' on her site.

SD on May 05, 2014:

so sad

Phillip eliot on March 31, 2014:

Rosalia is an angel of beauty and purity. The sleeping angel of gods phenomenon.

Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on March 25, 2014:

Very good hub :) I am familiar with this mummy and saw the show on tv about her. Very intriguing and amazing on how she is kept well perserved. I have seen first hand the impact mummies have on people and the emotions can be overwhelming like when I visited Mummies Of The World in Baltimore. Just makes you appreciate life even more and respect the dead more as well. Have a wonderful week.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 06, 2014:

Creepy but beautiful at the same time. Very well written hub.

Guest on November 25, 2013:

Re: Amanda's question. The image at the bottom is from some artist's tumblr and is supposed to be a "tribute" to the little girl. According to the artist's own tumblr, which is linked below the image, it's sperm. Artist has some BS about what the hell that's supposed to mean.

Amanda on November 23, 2013:

I came to this page to read up on the mummy. But I'm left with a question... the "time lapse" photo, that is supposed to be Rosalia but older, what is on her face?

Khafizah Abdullah on November 11, 2013:

A very beautiful child indeed. I felt sorry for her as she was being preserved mummies.

Joe Mama on November 10, 2013:

I am actually familiar with the story of Rosalia Lombardo, however I haven't seen all the information in one place like this... kudos to the author.

Pineapple on September 29, 2013:

In your second paragraph you mentioned blonde hair. Rosalia was born brunette. Her hair appears blonde now do to light damage (Camera flashes and such.). This is also why she has dark or odd spots visible on her face. But she is still one of the most stunningly preserved mummies I have ever seen. She's such an old mummy, but still looks so alive. I'm sure anyone shown a picture of her who didn't know who she was would assume it's just an old photograph of a child sleeping. She's just lovely.

Cinod on September 14, 2013:

Wow, this is extraordinaire! It's so sad she lost her life with a battle of pneumonia. Poor Lil Sleeping Beauty (Rosalia) a face forever frozen in time. If you look at Evita, or even the Saint Bernadette, they too are very well perserved! I find it highly impressive. The way they've preserved even the internal organs.

Questionable on July 30, 2013:

Uh what's on the teen rendition of the mummy's face? You know, that white drippy stuff...

Abhaque Supanjang from Kumango - Batusangkar - Sumatera Barat - Indonesia on June 26, 2013:

You have shared a very interesting phenomenon...! Her name is heard all over the world, included in Indonesia; but not all of us know exactly who she was. Nice hub, Jasonponic..!

Michele Travis from U.S.A. Ohio on June 25, 2013:

What an interesting hub. I feel so sorry for her family. Having her for such a short time. Thy must have felt such sorry.

Voted up.

MISS.SWAGG on June 22, 2013:


MysticMoonlight on May 25, 2013:

Fascinating. I'd never heard of little Rosalia before reading this Hub. She looks as though she is a sleeping angel. She is so lovely but my heart just breaks for her having passed at such a young age. Poor darling.

glassvisage from Northern California on May 24, 2013:

I hadn't heard of her - this really is fascinating! Poor little thing. Thanks for sharing :)

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 24, 2013:

Very interesting and unusual hub topic. Voted up and shared.

Carla J Swick from NW PA on May 24, 2013:

Weird and fascinating story! I too was intrigued from start to finish.

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on May 22, 2013:

What a fascinating story. I was intrigued from beginning to end.

Jason Ponic (author) from Albuquerque on March 06, 2013:

There's no better example of humanity's fascination with death than Rosalia.

FullOfLoveSites from United States on March 06, 2013:

Wow, how it tears me apart about Rosalia. She looks like she's just asleep. Creepy, yet really draws me into curiosity. Voted up and interesting. :)

Anna from Malaysia on February 10, 2013:

An interesting Hub on an unusual topic. Thanks:)

Jason Ponic (author) from Albuquerque on February 08, 2013:

Thank you so much! I also find her story heart-wrenching, hence why I wrote it!

இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу from Niagara Region, Canada on February 08, 2013:

What a wonderful Hub. I, too, never heard of little Rosalia and found the story heart-wrenching. Thank you.

LaThing from From a World Within, USA on February 05, 2013:

Interesting hub! Never heard of this mummy, such a sweet and mysterious story. Thanks for sharing with us..... :)