The Mystery Behind Rosalia Lombardo, A Child Mummy Who Appears To 'Open Her Eyes'

The Mystery Behind Rosalia Lombardo, A Child Mummy Who Appears To 'Open Her Eyes'

Rosalia was preserved so well that it looks like she's only sleeping, even 100 years after her death.

Rosalia Lombardo, a 2-year-old girl, who died in the 1920s, remains one of the best-preserved mummies, but the legend of Rosalia goes much beyond that. Countless tourists swear they have seen the little girl open her eyes. Rosalia is preserved in an obscure Sicilian catacomb in an open casket. Rosalia was preserved so well that it looks like she's only sleeping. It was a secret formula used by the embalmer that enabled her to look so life-like. The little girl died at the tender age of two due to complications arising from pneumonia in 1920. Her father was heartbroken and keen to preserve her body. He sought the help of an embalmer, Alfredo Salafia. The embalmer used a secret formula to mummify Rosalia so well that, more than a100 years later, her internal organs remain intact, according to ATI. 



Her skin looks smooth and intact with no damage whatsoever. Her golden hair remains tied neatly at the back. It's her crystal blue eyes, that are visible beneath her blonde eyelashes, that give you goosebumps. It makes it look like she's only half asleep and could 'wake up' at any moment. There are more than 8,000 mummies in the catacombs underneath the Capuchin convent in Palermo, Sicily but it's Rosalia's casket that tourists flock, to get a glimpse of the girl that could 'wake up' any moment. Stories of Rosalia have now become a part of Sicilian lore. Many have reported witnessing Rosalia briefly open her eyes, adding to the legend of the little girl. The claims were also backed up a popular composite of several time-lapse photographs that appeared to show Rosalia opening her eyes by a fraction of an inch.



While conspiracy theories started breeding on the internet, Italian biological anthropologist Dario Piombino-Mascali debunked the claims in 2009. “It’s an optical illusion produced by the light that filters through the side windows, which during the day is subject to change,” said Piombino-Mascali in a statement. He noted that the mummy's case had been moved by the workers at the museum, which had caused her eyelids to shift slightly, making more of Rosalia's eyes visible. “They are not completely closed, and indeed they have never been,” said the biological anthropologist. "So, when the light changes and hits her eyes at different angles, it can appear as though the eyes are opening." 


Piombino-Mascali also claimed to have discovered the elusive formula used to preserve Rosalia. It was assumed for a long time that Salafia, the embalmer, had taken secret formula to his grave but Piombino-Mascali found a trove of his papers after tracking down his living relatives and home. Among them, he found a handwritten memoir detailing the chemicals and the process he used to preserve Rosalia's body. Salafia had used formalin, zinc salts, alcohol, salicylic acid, and glycerin to preserve her body. It's become common for embalmers to use Formalin now, but Salafia might have been the first one to utilize the chemical for embalming. Another factor that helped preserve the little girl's body was the arid climate in the catacombs. Along with alcohol, the climate helped dry the 2-year-old's body while glycerin helped keep her body from drying out too much and salicylic acid prevented the growth of fungi.



Melissa Johnson Williams, executive director of the American Society of Embalmers, believes Zinc is the key element that helps Rosalia to look the way she does. Zinc salts helped petrify her small body. “Zinc gave her rigidity. You could take her out of the casket prop her up, and she would stand by herself.”  The procedure used by Salafia involved just a single point injection without any drainage or cavity treatment. It has also helped that she has now been moved to a new glass case which helps block out bacteria and fungi. "Thanks to a special film, it also protects the body from the effects of light,” said Piombino-Mascali, who hopes the conspiracy theories of the mummy opening her eyes are put to rest.

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