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The crypt of the dead priests in Gangi

Crypt of the dead priests: close-up of one of the mummies

As already mentioned in the article on Gangi (a town in the province of Palermo), if you are not remarkably impressionable, you can visit the crypt of the Chiesa Madre, known as the crypt of the dead priests or a fossa di parrini.

At its entrance you read:

scendete o vivi a visitar la morte, pria che la morte a visitar voi scenda. Fu sempre bene prevenir la sorte”

i.e.

Come down alive people to visit death, before death comes to find you. It was always good to prevent fate

Welcome… 😅 

The halls of the crypt of the dead priests

Go down the stairs, and you find yourself in two large halls that house 60 mummified bodies of clergymen who died between 1728 and 1872. They are inside niches; above each of them, there is a plaque that shows the name, the date of death (they died between 40 and 80 years of age), and a sonnet, which summarizes the work of the priest while he was alive.

The mummies hold upright thanks to an invisible pole, and it seems like they are looking at you. Some are sad, and others seem to smile. That was made possible by the use of wax, used to integrate the orbits, the nose, or the lip profile; in other cases, however, they used wax to create a real funeral mask.

About the heads… They are detached from the body and fixed with a stick.

One of the two large halls which house the mummified bodies of clergymen
One of the two halls of the “fossa di parrini”

There is another room with a colatoio, or the table on which the corpses were placed for dehydration and natural drying of liquids. After that, the bodies were covered with priestly vestments.

Well-known guests in the crypt

In the fossa di parrini, you can also see the body of the poet Giuseppe Fedele Vitale, who was a doctor and priest, as well as an exponent of the literary current of Arcadia in Sicily. He committed suicide by jumping from a balcony in madness.

The custom of embalming the bodies of the dead has very distant origins. There are several cases in Southern Italy. The most famous is that of the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, where you find about 8,000 mummies.

TIDBITS. The crypt of the dead priests houses an altar with a tabernacle. The reason is that they regularly celebrated Mass inside it until the mid-60s of the last century. Practically the clergyman, although they had passed away, continued to participate in the liturgical celebration (in order not to lose their habits 🙂 ).

Furthermore, in 2013 some uniforms arose. They probably belonged to the Confraternity that managed the conservation of the bodies. Together with them, a leather sheet with six handles. It was necessary to transport the body from the crypt to the Church for the celebration of the funeral.

The fossa di parrini has aroused the interest of National Geographic too, which financed a campaign of radiological investigations on mummies a few years ago.

In short, if you go to Gangi, you can’t miss the crypt. Of course, it’s not like taking a walk in the flower fields, but I suppose it is not necessary to underline it 😀

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