Gary Mormino, Ph.D.
James Anthony Schnur Associate University Librarian Special Collections and University Archives
University of South Florida St. Petersburg
Beneath the sacred soil of Sicily’s Capuchin convent resides Palermo’s elite friars, artists, and aristocrats. All of the catacomb’s residents have departed this world. Their bodies are suspended in time, free from decomposition and decay. The Capuchin Order of the Friars Minor came to Sicily in 1534. Their mission was to care for the sick and the dead. As an act of humility, the order forbade burial in the church. The friars built the subterranean necropolis for their brethren in 1599. The Capuchin’s mummification ingenuity began with an act of divine intervention. The order’s funeral rituals correlate with the theory of secondary burial. The deceased body must be treated in a particular manner in order for the soul to reach the afterlife. The Capuchin Catacomb is one of Palermo’s most famous attractions. The catacomb mummies have been preserved in several manners, including techniques used today in modern embalming methods. The Sicilian people have a close relationship with the dead; they are adored and worshiped as relics. Globalization is a growing threat to the conservation of the catacomb’s mummies. Death is socially constructed and its perception varies greatly throughout time and culture. Each visitor of Palermo’s subterranean necropolis leaves with a sober realization of mortality.
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Buckland Rutan, Mary, "Palermo’s Subterranean Necropolis: The Capuchin Catacomb" (2013). USFSP Honors Program Theses (Undergraduate). 154.