Rosalia Lombardo was an Italian child born in 1918 in Palermo, Sicily. She died of pneumonia on December 6, 1920. Rosalia’s father, General Lombardo, was sorely grieved upon her death, so he approached Alfredo Salafia, a noted embalmer, to preserve her. Her body was one of the last corpses to be admitted to the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo in Sicily.
Thanks to Salafia’s embalming techniques, the body was well preserved. X-rays of the body show that all the organs are remarkably intact. Rosalia Lombardo’s body is kept in a small chapel at the end of the catacomb’s tour and is encased in a glass covered coffin, placed on a marble pedestal. A 2009 National Geographic photograph of Rosalia Lombardo shows the mummy is beginning to show signs of decomposition, most notably discoloration. To address these issues the mummy was moved to a new drier spot in the catacombs, and her original coffin was placed in a hermetically sealed glass enclosure with nitrogen gas to prevent decay. The mummy is one of the best preserved bodies in the catacombs.
Recently, the mummification techniques used by Salafia were discovered in a handwritten memoir of Salafia’s. Salafia replaced the girl’s blood with a liquid made of formalin to kill bacteria, alcohol to dry the body, glycerin to keep her from overdrying, salicylic acid to kill fungi, and zinc salts to give her body rigidity. Accordingly, the formula’s composition is “one part glycerin, one part formalin saturated with both zinc sulfate and chloride, and one part of an alcohol solution saturated with salicylic acid.