Friday, July 16, 2010

Sicily Crypts: Place Where The Dead Don't Sleep

A Haunting Experience in Palermo Catacomb

It has been said that Sicilians have an obsession with death. It is still very common to see elderly Sicilian widows wearing black for the remainder of their lives and a tradition of professional mourners once existed for centuries. It is hard to say where this cult of the dead comes from, either from the deep rooted Catholic faith or perhaps a holdover from ancient Greek and Roman times. Regardless of the origins, notions about death are still alive in Sicily, and no place better exemplifies this than Palermo's Capuchin Crypt. This macabre display is one of a mummy.

The Capuchin Order is an offshoot of the more famous Franciscans that branched out in the mid sixteenth century. Their names comes from the distinctive hood that the monks wear that has since lent its name to the popular coffee drink Cappuccino, whose foamed milk top it resembles. Even though this Order of the Friars Minor originated in the Marche region of Italy, their unique take on the mortal body after death make them a perfect fit for Sicily. In fact the first monk to be embalmed was placed in the crypt shortly after the Order arrived in Palermo.

Entrance to the Crypt is located at Piazza Cappuccini, which is a short walk from the Palazzo Reale. It is an unassuming building that conforms to the Order's vow of poverty and may be overlooked if you miss the signs. On arriving you may be greeted by the elderly monk who watches over the crypt as he gestures toward the cool and dark stairway that leads to the crypt. As you walk down the steps one is reminded of Dante's inscription above the gates of hell: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." 
Once inside the crypt feels more like the set for "Night of the Living Dead" or Michael Jackson's "Thriller" than a religious community. No horror movie or amusement park haunted house can compete with hundred of bodies dressed in their Sunday's best and suspended by hooks on the wall. The bodies, in various levels of decay stare down (some with their own eyes) looking like they are ready to grab you, wanting you to join them.

A creepy, eerie feeling surrounds you as you walk along the halls. Suddenly the ghostly voice of a monk echoes through the chamber stating "no photo." It makes you wonder why anyone would want to take pictures in the first place. If ghosts could be caught on film, it would certainly be here. 

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