Entering the dark, eerie crypt beneath the Church of St. Stephen in Ferentillo, Italy is an unsettling experience. Wind whistles through gaps in the windowpanes. The space is filled with mummies, their aged flesh as stoney looking as the interior. An ossuary of skulls and reconstructed animal skeletons lines the back wall.
The morbid specimens are all part of the Museum of the Mummies. Some of the mummies of are not hidden away within tightly sealed cases or illuminated in flattering lighting. They lurk within the dark crypt below the church of St. Stephen, their preserved corpses staged in various poses behind only a thin veil of glass.
One kneeling mummy clasps its leathery hands together, its head tilted toward the ceiling as if in desperate prayer. Another wraps its skeletal arms around its shriveled ribs, encasing its torso in an eternal embrace. Yet another stretches its mouth open, posed as if emitting a permanent, silent scream.
The mummies all range in age, some dating back between 400 and 500 years ago, and others from as recent as the 19th century. They were discovered in the church in the early 1800s after an edict ordered that all corpses interred within churches were to be exhumed.
A couple of the mummies on display have unusual backstories such as those of a group of Chinese pilgrims whose cause of death remains a mystery, and the mummy of a lawyer who was apparently murdered by his client.
No one meant to mummify the corpses. Their preservation arose naturally from a combination of mineral-rich soil and microorganisms that thrived within the crypt.
Though the museum’s location is far from the typical tourist spots, it’s worth visiting for a chance to see these odd, eerie specimens.