Monday, July 25, 2005

Those Creepy Capuchins

This summer I finally made it to the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo. Postcards from it are seen all over Sicily--old dried-up corpses of real people hanging up for viewing. I didn't really want to see it, but I felt I had to see it as everyone who visited wanted to! So, I managed to avoid it for eleven months before giving in and going with four friends from Atlanta. So, instead of "The World of Coke" we had "The World of Corpses."

I won't go into the history or details, because a nice American sailor right here in Sigonella has put together a definitive website with illegal photos and everything! Let me just tell you that OUR group obeyed the signs that were posted every ten feet and did NOT take any photos! And who would want to? There are about a thousand corpses to see, from priests to virgins to babies, in various poses, dress, and degrees of preservation.

A Capuchin monk who must have done something very bad sits upstairs at a card table with a cardboard box of coins and collects just one Euro for entry to the basement catacombs. He also sells postcards, brochures, and directs people to the rest rooms in the monastery. The Capuchins are the ones who started all of this drying out and preserving to begin with . . . were they just bored, or what? Or maybe they didn't feel like burying one of the brothers and they just left him down the basement for a few weeks . . . only to find out he'd dried out rather nicely and didn't even smell? If you want to join these guys today, you still can. Here's the link to their website: Peace and All Good.

Besides the monks themselves being weird to do such a thing, what about the citizens of Palermo who wanted to be preserved? How weird is that? It was supposedly a very trendy thing to do! Keeping up with the neighbors meant keeping up with them for centuries to come, I guess. If they only knew what they looked like now, they might have thought twice about it. And the monks were all too happy to accept payment for it.

Well, this is the third really creepy thing I've witnessed witnessed in Europe. The other two are the charnel house of St. Michael's in Hallstatt, Austria (recommended by Rick Steves) and the Bodyworks traveling exhibit of "plastified" real people (developed and headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany). Yuck, yuck, and yuck. I was going to say you'd never see this in America, but I see that Bodyworks is there right now, so don't miss it!


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