No one with a heart would ever want to see a light extinguished so soon. On December 6, 1920 Mario Lombardo said goodbye to his daughter, one-year-old Rosalia, for the last time. But it is what happened after her death that has baffled scientists and clergy for decades.
For nearly a century now, she has held many titles: The Girl in the Glass Coffin, Sleeping Beauty, the Word’s Most Beautiful Mummy, and the Best-Preserved Mummy in the World. She was born Rosalia Lombardo on December 13, 1918 in Palermo, Sicily, Italy. Rosalia was born to an Italian General which granted her family a higher social status. However, his high station could not keep his daughter from contracting pneumonia and passing away on December 6, 1920, just short of her second birthday.
Grief stricken, the General had a very hard time saying goodbye to his little girl. He enlisted the help of embalmer Alfredo Salafia to preserve her body forever. The result of Salafia’s work was one of the most amazing body preservations ever performed, largely considered the best case of mummification ever in history. Once completed, Rosalia looked like a sleeping child in her crib. She was so perfectly preserved that she was placed in a glass coffin and interred in the Capuchin Catacombs in Sicily. She was also the last person to be interred in these catacombs.
For decades, skeptics believed that Rosalia’s body was a perfect wax replica and that Alfredo Salafia discarded the child’s body in order to create a fake “miracle”. Then in the early 2000’s, a documentary crew brought x-ray equipment down into the catacombs to answer this question. The x-rays confirmed that there is a skeleton. In 2009, a crew from National Geographic went down to the catacombs to perform an MRI on Rosalia. Producing a 3D image of the exterior and interior of her body, they found that all her organs were present and intact.
For generations embalmers sought out Salafia’s formula, a secret that he swore never to reveal. Then in 2009, Italian biological anthropologist Dario Piombino-Mascali, with help from the National Geographic Society, discovered that formula. Dario tracked down all of Salafia’s living relatives. Salafia, who died in 1933, was an embalmer and taxidermist for most of his life. However, what is amazing about his work is that he was self-taught. As such, he was constantly researching and experimenting. In the process, he amassed a large collection of formulas and paperwork regarding the practice of embalming.
Among his paper work was a handwritten memoir in which he wrote down the chemical composition of what he injected into Rosalia. The formula contained formalin, zinc salts, alcohol, salicylic acid, and glycerin. Although Formalin, a combination of water and formaldehyde which kills bacteria, is widely used now, Salafia appears to be one of the first one to use it. The other chemicals such as glycerin would have kept the body from drying out, while salicylic acid would have prevented fungi from growing on the body. But the real secret behind Rosalia’s perfect preservation seems to be the zinc salts. Zinc salt is no longer used in embalming, but in this case, its use may have petrified Rosalia’s corpse. Dario believes the use of zinc salts caused rigidity and that if she was taken out of the casket Rosalia would stand upright on her own.
So it would seem the mystery of how Rosalia was preserved so perfectly is solved. However, one mystery that still remains is, several time-lapse videos have emerged showing Rosalia’s eyes repeatedly opening and closing. This phenomenon has also been observed by people viewing the body in person, who say her eyelids have opened to reveal to perfectly preserved blue eyes. Although some attribute this phenomenon to changes in room temperature or even an optical illusion caused by changes in the room’s lighting, there are still those who believe that Salafia’s means of preserving Rosalia preserved much more than just her body. They believe, somehow, he managed to preserve her soul as well.