Sicily’s Catacombs of the Capuchins (Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Italian ) are unlike anywhere else I know of in the world. Described by some as a “ grisly one-stop shop for horror” or the “ultimate museum of the macabre”, I believe there is actually far more to them.

The catacombs were created in the 16th century when the Capuchin Monastery outgrew its cemetery and the monks decided to expand underground to create more space. In 1599 the monks mummified the remains of one of the recently-deceased brothers, Silvestro of Gubbio, and placed his body in the catacombs in order that others might be able to not just pray to him, but still pray with him.

The trend caught on and soon not just other monks, but priests and nuns were mummified and displayed in the Capuchin Catacombs as well… Although originally intended just for the monks, the entrepreneurial spirit of those responsible for the Catacombs of the Capuchins manifested itself before long and the entombment within the catacombs was allowed to become a status symbol over the following centuries. So, naturally, everyone wanted to be seen there (even if they were dead).

The catacombs are said to contain about 8,000 mummies, but my impression after visiting is that that seems a bit high. The exact figure is unknown as a detailed inventory has never been taken.

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