The Mummies of Ferentillo

October 31, 2012 / Places
Ferentillo, Umbria

In this little town, under the seemingly innocent church of Santo Stefano, lies a mystery that has never been solved…

Bodies buried below the church hundreds of years ago were attacked by a rare fungus that preserved them, turning them into mummies, where they are on view even today, a veritable little shop of horrors.

The church itself was built in the 15th century above another church, originally built in the 12th century. The lower church was used as a burial ground from about 1500 to 1871, when the mummies were first discovered. Today, they are on display (!), where you will see that they are so well preserved that some of them still have hair and teeth, and a few wear the clothes they wore when they died.

I lasted about a minute inside, but was told later that the display included various figures, as well as a group of Chinese pilgrims who died while on their pilgrimage route to Rome…

(A fitting Halloween note, thank you Evanne! We decided to draw the line at the actual photos of the mummies, however. – ed.)

Evanne Brandon-Diner

by Evanne Brandon-Diner

Chronicler of local village life in Northern Lazio, and property restoration and purchasing consultant. www.lavventuraitalia.com

13 Responses to “The Mummies of Ferentillo”

  1. Evanne

    GB kindly omitted the photos of the grotesque mummy bodies, some hair and skin even intact. It’s worth a visit there if you are not squeamish, as I am.

    Reply
  2. Stephanie Castle

    A memorable experience last June when we visited. Totally amazing how well preserved the mummies are…..from the skin, teeth, clothes, cholera marks, hair and even body weapon wound holes. Across from the church is the office where we found a nice girl who opened the church for us and allowed us all the time we wanted. Very easy to combine with visit with the church of san Pietro.

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  3. Ann Bowerman

    Visited here on a tour with Culture Discovery. As macabre as it may seem it is also a sacred burial site. There is a Chinese couple that was on their homeymoon, as well as an infant. It was absolutely amazing to see how well preserved the bodies are.

    Reply
  4. This sort of display is really more interesting than it might seem to those who’ve never been and whose first reaction is, “EEWWWW!” I went to the catacombs in Paris in 1996 and then back in 2000 because it was an amazing experience. It was a bit creepy at first, because there is at the threshold a sign reading, “You are now entering the realm of the dead.” Once there, it became totally fascinating. The bones are arranged with respect and plaques are inlaid along the route, bearing quotations by famous French people (I think Descartes was among them; I don’t remember well) and a good description of how the catacombs came to be. The mummies of Ferentillo sound a touch more discomforting (hair and clothes … pushing my limit), but they too are respectfully laid out with good information. In the basilica in Mondsee, Austria, FIVE skeletons are part of the high altar, described thusly: “In the middle, in a raised position, it contains the bones of Blessed Abbot Konrad II, whose skeleton was reassembled to create a seated figure in 1732, and at his sides the recumbent skeletons of 4 catacomb saints.” I found the recumbent skeletons to be fairly high on the creepy scale, especially the “reassembled” part.

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  5. Anne Robichaud

    Enjoyed your note, Evanne..and yes, that Ferentillo is a curious place (and what landscape all around, vero?)
    ..and those mummies are on view “thanks” to Napoleon’s edict of 1806 requiring all burial to be outside of the medieval town walls and no longer in church crypts…
    What a surprise for those ordered to move out the dead from THAT crpyt!

    Loved this note for Halloween – perfetto!

    Reply
  6. bob paglee

    From 1952-1956, I lived in Italy, first on the “quarto caldo” of Mt. Circeo (above the sea next to the tiny town of San Felice), then from 1953 (when I married Lynn in Vatican City at St. Peter’s Basilica)to 1956 in Rome on Monte (collina?) Parioli at Via Archimede 191.

    I worked on the top floor of the U.S. Embassy on Via Veneto, and I recall a small church down the street where the basement had a huge display of human skulls and skeletons that once were priests and monks. If it is still there and still open to visitors, it would make an even more dramatic picture than the one shown in this issue.

    In 1952 I also once visited a small underground cemetary in Palermo available to tourists where many mummies were on disply standing up along the wall inside a sort of catacomb where holes in the overhead let in some daylight and fresh air. I doubt if that macabre scene is still available to tourists.

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  7. I, too, visited here about 4 years ago and I, too, had mixed emotions of curiosity and feeling as if I was trespassing in a private, maybe even sacred space. Perfect for day of the dead reading.

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  8. Ann Waggoner

    This reminds me of the church on the Via Veneto which I believe is St Franciscan. There are many many skulls, some of which had to belong to babies or small children. It was very interesting but nausea got the better of me and I had to leave.

    Reply
  9. Elyse Etling

    Great piece for the day ahead.. Perhaps more photos could be “masked” so those that want to see..could see…thanks

    Reply
  10. Mairin O'Mahony

    If you are a real mummy-fan chec out il Convento dei Capuccini in Palermo. Rich people who chose to be embalmed rather than be buried wearing their best clothes…a little shop-worn by now but eerily fascinating nonetheless.

    Otranto Cathedral has a chapel with 800 skull behind glass walls suppsedly of locals massacred by the Turks.

    Happy Halloween!

    Reply
  11. I’m surprised that there were any photos at all. When I visited there, it was not allowed to take any pictures out of respect.

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