Spooky places in Italy: churches built on bones, catacombs and haunted places
On the occasion of Halloween, I decided to share with you a story about very scary places in Italy. And not only superstitious people can feel bad there. They affect anyone so that the teeth begin to spontaneously tap out.
Today’s selection includes places haunted by ghosts, churches made of bones, and catacombs. So, as they say in the commercials: “all tricks are made by professionals, do not try to repeat them. I personally strongly discourage you from visiting these places.
SICILY: THE CAPUCHIN CATACOMBS IN PALERMO
I feel obliged to warn everyone going to Sicily: “If you are not sure of your mental stability, don’t go down to the catacombs of Palermo, because it is a real showroom of corpses”. I didn’t even purposely publish photos from there, because I’m not a fan of the dead. Originally, the crypt under the temple, belonging to the monastery of the Capuchins, was used to bury the brethren, but over time it became the most prestigious cemetery in Palermo. The corridors were widened, lengthened and divided into areas: men’s, women’s, children’s, priests’, professional and cubicle of virgins, and the dead continued to be buried here until the end of the XIX century.
Painting “Love and Death” by the Sicilian artist Calcedonio Reina, painted in the catacombs of Palermo
The peculiarity of the catacombs is that the local microclimate promotes the mummification of bodies, which were treated with vinegar before burial. So walking through the corridors is a terrifying journey into the land of the dead. Embalmed human bodies of varying degrees of decomposition look at you from all sides: some from glass coffins, others leaned against walls or suspended from chains and ropes. Special mention should be made of Rosalia Lombardo’s Sleeping Beauty, a girl who died at the age of one from pneumonia. Her glass coffin is displayed in the chapel of Santa Rosalia and before being buried in the catacombs, the child’s body was previously embalmed by the famous chemist Alfredo Salafia, who lived in Palermo in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rosalia’s body is imperishable, even preserving the blush on her cheeks, which makes the child appear to be just sleeping.
If it were possible to look at this mummy separately, I would not discourage you from visiting Rosalia’s resting place. But everything else! The seated bodies of monks, skulls grinning from beneath their hoods. The half-decomposed corpses of men and women standing against the walls with their arms folded crosswise. Shelves of bodies in corridors that look like a second-class train carriage carrying the living dead.
I don’t know. Probably the lovers of Romero Zombie’s works will like the variety of death in all its manifestations, but the others after visiting the Capuchin Catacombs will inevitably be tormented by nightmares. And the appetite for the next couple of weeks will surely be lost, and in Sicily with its exceptional cuisine – this is the real tragedy.
ROMAN: THE CRYPT OF THE CAPUCHINS
Rome’s Capuchin Crypt is a sort of Sicilian catacomb in miniature. The same principle: instead of the traditional cemetery burial under the church of Santa Maria della Concezione, which is located on the Via Veneto. It is strictly forbidden for the mentally challenged.
After all, even if you’re not intimidated by the decoration of the bones of 4,000 Capuchin monks, how would you like the prospect of looking at children’s skeletons? The small ones on the wall are the remains of the dead grandchildren of Pope Urban VIII, and the skeleton on the ceiling with the scales and scythe belonged to Princess Barberini. Add to that mummified arms folded in the shape of a cross, lamps made of pelvic bones, and skulls that are scaling. Is it horrifying? Yes. The kind of thing that makes you want to get drunk and forget yourself when you leave the crypt.
MILAN: ST. BERNARD’S CHURCH ON BONES
The creepiest place in Milan is the Church of San Bernardino alle Ossa. At first when you get inside, you do not expect a catch, but if you walk down the narrow corridor of the sanctuary, laid out in 1210, you will find yourself in a chapel, the walls of which are lined with human bones. Many are in the shape of a cross or the letter M – a kind of tribute to the Virgin Mary. Well, and on the ceiling above all this horror hovers Sebastiano Ricci’s multicolored, colorful and disharmoniously festive fresco, The Triumph of Souls Among the Angels.
There is no definite answer to the question of to whom the human bones that lined the walls of the chapel belonged. According to an old legend, they are the remains of Christians who, along with the patron saint of Milan, St. Ambrose, fought against the Arians. According to another version, the bones belong to the Milanese, who died in the 4th century during the invasion of the Goths. The third hypothesis is the most accurate. According to it, in the Middle Ages there was a cemetery belonging to the hospital Ospedale del Brolo, so the bones are the remains of patients who died within its walls.
The church of San Bernardino alle Ossa acquired its nightmarish decoration in the XVIII century, when the Milan cemetery had no empty spaces left. The bodies of the deceased were exhumed, and their remains were used to decorate the chapel. The whole thing looks monstrous, and even the most enthusiastic necromancers in Milan’s church would be uncomfortable.
EMILIA-ROMAGNA: CASTLE OF ADZURINA
Italy’s most famous ghost dwells in the small castle of Montebello, an hour’s drive from Rimini. The name of the place does not mean “beautiful mountain” as you might think, but “mountain of battles”, because the Italian word Montebello is an adaptation of the Latin phrase “Mons Belli”, where belli is derived from the word bellum “war” in Latin. The castle has always been a fortification, and in the Middle Ages it belonged to the vassals of Malatesta.
Its fame as a bad place was already fixed in XIV century after a girl named Guendalina, who was the daughter of the owners, mysteriously disappeared within its walls. The child went down in history under the nickname Adzurina, from the word azzurro – “blue” or “azure”. The fact is that the girl was born albino. Her parents feared that their child would be recognized as a witch, so they hid the child from prying eyes, and her mother dyed her daughter’s hair with dark paint. The paint washed off and her hair gradually acquired a bluish tint – hence the nickname Adzurina.
Around the castle, the girl was always accompanied by two guards: Domenico and Ruggiero. On June 21, 1375 the child was playing in the lower hall of the castle with a rag ball. The toy rolled away into the basement, where the glacier was located, and the guards allowed Adzurina to go down alone to get it, and they themselves remained waiting for the girl upstairs. An hour or two passed, but the child did not appear. The parents and guards searched the entire castle, but no sign of Adzurina. Since then, strange things began to happen in Montebello.
On the night of June 21-22, locals hear a child’s laughter and crying, a thin voice calling for his mother, and the names of demons. All this might seem like idle fables, if the present owners of the castle had not engaged specialists from the Institute of Electroacoustics from the regional center of Bologna to study the incomprehensible sounds. Since 1999, with high-frequency equipment they annually record the noises heard at night in the walls of the castle. The origin of strange sounds is still not clear. And they give tourists to listen to the final tour of the castle. By the way, unaccompanied guests are not allowed to move around the rooms.
What can I say about this place? Despite the fact that I was in the castle of Montebello on a nice day, the feeling of a walk through its halls, I was left with a lousy. Heavy energy, constant sleepiness, nausea, and a slight dizziness, as if you were in a very stuffy room. When we went beyond the gates of the castle, all the unpleasant feelings disappeared at once, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not find the objective reason for the sudden nausea. It must be true, this place is not good. It is not for nothing that the current owners of the castle visit it very rarely, and the employees of the Montebello Museum do not like to spend the night in its walls.
UMBRIA: MUMMY MUSEUM IN FERENTILLO
Of course you are unlikely to get to Ferentillo, near Treni in the Umbria region, but if you stop here, resist the temptation to visit the local Mummy Museum, located in the crypt under the church of St. Stephen. No, it’s not a Capuchin burial ground. The embalmed bodies, displayed under the vaults of the crypt’s stone walls, were discovered by accident during the excavation of the crypt of the local church.
The oldest mummy – about 400 years, and the “youngest” refers to the XIX century. Moreover, the clothes of the dead also perfectly preserved. As scientists found out, the microclimate of the crypt. Curiously enough, the bodies of Asians were found here: men and women. Historians later determined that the deceased were a couple of newlyweds from China who came to Umbria in 1750 during their honeymoon and died here of illness. Also found in the crypt were the remains of two Napoleonic soldiers, who died in 1796-1797, and the body of a young pregnant woman.
All this is very interesting in words, but to observe the embalmed dead is not a pleasant thing. The more so since the corpses are laid out in a gloomy cellar and covered with glass sarcophagi, scary Gothic novels come to mind. All in all, there are 24 human mummies on display in the halls, including children’s, and two dead embalmed birds, one of which is an eagle.
In short, as the song sang, “and after death I shall never find peace.” Only the lawyer buried in the village of Ferentillo was relatively lucky. Out of respect for his descendants, who still live here today, the body of the deceased was not put on public display. Tourists are only shown his sealed coffin, but that, too, you must agree, is not an enviable posthumous fate.
VENICE: THE ISLE OF THE PAVEMENT
The Venetian authorities threaten to open a luxury hotel here soon, and Povella will become the most fashionable island in the lagoon. The idea seems strange to me, to put it mildly, because this place has a bad reputation, and the energy there, to put it bluntly, does not inspire relaxation and romance. The inhabitants of Padua and Este originally settled on the island, they hid here from the invasion of the barbarians. Then, during the war with Genoa, the Venetians lived there, but by the 16th century Povella had become uninhabited. In order to avoid wasting time in the XVIII century there was arranged a quarantine for sailors: they were put here for 40 days so as not to spread contagion, and in 1922 there was opened a madhouse, which existed until 1968.
They say the patients in the asylum were treated terribly: various experiments, pouring ice-cold water over them, trepanations, electric shocks and other horrors in the complete set. Powell’s bad reputation is fuelled by the fact that there is an unverified legend that plague-ridden people have been exiled to the isolated island to certain death since the days of the ancient Romans. Particularly exalted necromantic mathematicians have calculated that the island is haunted by some 160,000 ghosts. I personally have not seen any of the huge horde of spirits in the eyes, but this place is very unpleasant: goosebumps run over the skin even in the hottest weather. It’s a mystery to me what kind of superhotel they’re going to build there. I wouldn’t stay overnight in a place like that, even if I was very well paid.