Palermo’s Capuchin Catacombs: Where the Living and Dead Converge

The vaults of the Capuchin tombs in Palermo. Wood engraving by E. de S. – Photo:

Are you brave enough for Italy’s most eerie attraction? Descend into the mysterious Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo for a thrilling adventure!

About 8,000 bodies rest within the Capuchin Catacombs, where 1,252 mummies, fully clothed and remarkably well-preserved by the incredibly dry air, stand out.

The origins of the catacombs date back to the 1500s. They were initially built as a cemetery to bury the Capuchin friars, which were established in 1534 in Palermo at the church of Santa Maria della Pace (or Lady of Peace). The cemetery was a mass grave located under the altar of St. Anne. 

Eventually, the Capuchin community grew, and by 1597, the first room of the cemetery was too small. The bodies that couldn’t fit were moved to a charnel house (a fault for bones or corpses) for storage, and excavations began to create more space for other bodies.

In 1599, the friars transferred the bodies from the charnel house to the new grave. However, when they started the transition, the men found 45 naturally mummified and preserved bodies that had not decomposed and even had recognizable faces!

The Capuchins saw this event as an act of god and decided to display the bodies as relics. They propped them up in niches along the walls of the new cemetery. The first body placed in the catacombs was Frate Silvestro da Gubbio, wearing a brown robe and headdress and holding a sign to commemorate the event.

Numerous poets and writers have mentioned the Capuchin Catacombs for centuries, including Alexandre DumasFanny Lewald, Ippolito Pindemonte, and Calcedonio Reina.

Love and Death, an 1881 painting by Italian artist Calcedonio Reina – Photo: Public domain

Today, travelers can visit the catacombs from Monday to Saturday, from 9 am to 12:30 pm (last entry at 12:15) and from 3 pm to 5:30 pm (last entry at 5:15). Visitors should note they are not allowed to take photos of or touch the exhibits.