Deep down in the catacombs of Palermo more than one thousand mummies are embedded below a Capuchin cloister: The greatest accumulation of preserved bodies worldwide. They lie in alcoves, rest in open or closed coffins or hang on the walls. Among them, what is believed to be the world´s best preserved corpse: The little girl Rosalia Lombardo lies in her little casket made of glass as if she was sleeping – after almost ninety years.
However, Rosalia and the other mummified cadavers are endangered. The preserved bodies in their old clothes are decomposing. Rosalia, too, has started to show first signs of caducity.
In a large-scale research project conducted by the expert Albert Zink a group of scientists specialised on mummies is fighting to preserve the remains of the dead citizens of Palermo. In order to save Rosalia, they have to decipher the technique of her conservation. However, the man who mummified her, died without revealing his secret formula. The scientists succeed to achieve a sensation by taking one cautious investigative step after the other: They reveal the secret around the world´s best preserved mummy – and take up the battle against death and caducity.
In the worldwide exclusive documentary our focus is not merely on the scientists´ challenges and their achievement: “The dead let us know about their lives”, scientist Albert Zink believes. The catacombs reflect the social life of Palermo and Sicily for a period of over four centuries. Thousands of attested attempts to overcome death also tell us the cultural history of death itself – and pose philosophical and religious questions about the coherence between body, spirit and soul, death and resurrection.
On a very humane and emotional level it finally becomes clear that in the end neither wealth nor refined techniques of preservation can be stronger than death – but that love might be …