Rosalia Lombardo: The True Sleeping Beauty

By Jamie Frater on Saturday, July 20, 2013
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“The custom of embalming and mummification is most praiseworthy and highly to be recommended.” —Earnest Hooton

In a Nutshell

Rosalia Lombardo died at aged 2 and her distraught parents had her embalmed. She was the last so-called “mummy” to be preserved in the very creepy Capuchin Catacombs and her remarkable preservation has led people to name her the Sleeping Beauty.

The Whole Bushel

Rosalia Lombardo was an Italian child born in 1918 in Palermo, Sicily. She died on December 6th 1920 of pneumonia. Rosalia’s father was so sorely grieved upon her death that he approached Dr. Alfredo Salafia, a noted embalmer and taxidermist, to preserve her. She was one of the last corpses to be admitted to the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo, Sicily and one of the most well-known.

Her preservation is such that it appears as if she were only sleeping, hence receiving the nickname “Sleeping Beauty”. She is considered one of the world’s best-preserved bodies and it is hard to believe she died nearly 90 years ago. For many years, the formula that preserved her so magnificently was a mystery, but it has recently been discovered that she was injected with a mixture of formalin, zinc salts, alcohol, salicylic acid, and glycerin.

Formalin, now widely used by embalmers, is a mixture of formaldehyde and water that kills bacteria. Dr. Salafia was one of the first to use this for embalming bodies. Alcohol, along with the arid conditions in the catacombs, would have dried Rosalia’s body and allowed it to mummify. Glycerin would have kept her body from drying out too much, and salicylic acid would have prevented the growth of fungi.

According to Melissa Williams, executive director of the American Society of Embalmers, it was the zinc salts that were most responsible for Rosalia’s amazing state of preservation. Zinc, which is no longer used by embalmers in the United States, petrified Rosalia’s body. “[Zinc] gave her rigidity. You could take her out of the casket, prop her up, and she would stand by herself.”

Show Me The Proof

Listverse: Top 10 Famous Mummified Bodies
Listverse: 10 Residents of the Capuchin Catacombs
National Geographic: Lost “Sleeping Beauty” Mummy Formula Found