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Rosalia Lombardo: The Child Mummy

Updated on December 27, 2016
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Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

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.

General Mario Lombardo. Rosalia's supposed father.
General Mario Lombardo. Rosalia's supposed father.
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.

Life

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.

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

Embalming

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.
The X-Ray in progress.
The X-Ray in progress.

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.

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

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 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. | Source
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. | Source
Fan Art on DeviantArt
Fan Art on DeviantArt | Source

Have you ever visited Rosalia in person?

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    • profile image

      Evalyn 9 days ago

      wow i learned more info thank you

    • profile image

      Aish 2 weeks ago

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

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      Sunday Jean 5 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Patricia 14 months ago

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

      The story began isn' t that most important?

    • profile image

      Patricia 14 months ago

      Disturbingly beautiful-scientifically fascinating- unforgettable

    • profile image

      hoomanwithheart 14 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      annie 16 months ago

      is she dead or not then

    • profile image

      Darlene bobczyk 17 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      josevata smith 24 months ago

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

      Thanks for publishing this

      I'm from Fiji

    • profile image

      danischiazza 2 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Very interesting Hub, Jason. Rosalia is remarkably preserved.

    • Erin Hennessy profile image

      Erin Hennessy 2 years ago from Minnesota, United States

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

    • melissae1963 profile image

      Melissa Reese Etheridge 2 years ago from Tennessee, United States

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

    • April Dawn Meyer profile image

      April Dawn Meyer 2 years ago from Belle Fourche, South Dakota

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

    • pumpkincat210 profile image

      Courtney Rhodes 2 years ago from Houston, Texas U.S.A.

      Very strange and heartbreaking really. Interesting hub!

    • profile image

      marcellinegee 2 years ago

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

    • Fahad ansari12 profile image

      fahad ansari 2 years ago from Greater Noida

      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 profile image

      sjbrenner 3 years ago from Minnesota

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

    • profile image

      Michelle 3 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Ally 3 years ago

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

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      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.

    • Rebeccasutton profile image

      Rebecca Sutton 3 years ago from Rock Hill, SC

      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!

    • profile image

      sw110112 3 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      sw110112 3 years ago

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

    • profile image

      sw110112 3 years ago

      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.....

    • Paddycat profile image

      Annabelle Johnson 3 years ago from Charente, France

      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.

    • profile image

      Jenn 3 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      SD 3 years ago

      so sad

    • profile image

      Phillip eliot 3 years ago

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

    • carrie Lee Night profile image

      Kept private 3 years ago from Northeast United States

      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 profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

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

    • profile image

      Guest 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Amanda 4 years ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Khafizah Abdullah 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Joe Mama 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Pineapple 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Cinod 4 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Questionable 4 years ago

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

    • Abhaque Supanjang profile image

      Abhaque Supanjang 4 years ago from Kumango - Batusangkar - Sumatera Barat - Indonesia

      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 profile image

      Michele Travis 4 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      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.

    • profile image

      MysticMoonlight 4 years ago

      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 profile image

      glassvisage 4 years ago from Northern California

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

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

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

    • carlajbehr profile image

      Carla J Behr 4 years ago from NW PA

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

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

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

    • jasonponic profile image
      Author

      Jason Ponic 4 years ago from Albuquerque

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

    • FullOfLoveSites profile image

      FullOfLoveSites 4 years ago from United States

      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 Evanswood profile image

      Anna Evanswood 4 years ago from Malaysia

      An interesting Hub on an unusual topic. Thanks:)

    • jasonponic profile image
      Author

      Jason Ponic 4 years ago from Albuquerque

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

    • klidstone1970 profile image

      இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу 4 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

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

    • LaThing profile image

      LaThing 4 years ago from From a World Within, USA

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