Sicily’s unusual world of the dead – BBC REEL

Sicily’s unusual world of the dead – BBC REEL


I recently discovered that Sicily
has the largest concentration of documented mummies anywhere in
the world outside Egypt. Here in Sicily, life and death are different
aspects of the same reality. I came to find out more and ended up in the world’s only mummy summer school. I’m dying. My name is Amber Knight. Angel Bessa, and I’m a… Second year masters
student studying anthropology. Death fascinates me. I am here to study Sicilian mummies. Pretty amazing,
spectacular, super creepy. Hi! Every year the school attracts students
and researchers from around the world. You set up this mummy summer school? It’s called: Mummies Studies Field School,
simply because we not only study mummies on a
theoretical perspective, but we also do some practical work. And why in Sicily? It’s in Sicily because in Sicily
we have thousands of remains that haven’t been
studied before. What are you doing? The doctor said to stay in bed. I want to finish the book, I was hot. What is it? A story within a story within a story. Does it have ghosts? Yes, but it’s in French. This story starts in Palermo when in 1599
the Capuchin monks there opened a communal burial site and found that 45 of the bodies
had been perfectly preserved. It was seen as a message from God. Natural mummification here
happens more frequently than people would think, but they interpreted it as a miracle. So they exposed these bodies and the first
part of these places started to exist. So, it began…mummification in Sicily
began by accident? Here mummification began by accident,
after it was kind of a process. Sicilians refined the process of mummification
for 300 years until the practice mysteriously stopped at the beginning
of the 20th Century. Alfredo! I finished the book. I got a book in like 3rd grade
on Egyptian mummies and I’ve been interested ever since. But some of the mummies here seemed worlds
apart from their better known Egyptian cousins. So what exactly makes a mummy? As long as there is soft tissue on the body there is a classification of a mummy. A mummy is defined as a
point at which decomposition ceases. Decomposition is driven by two main
chemical processes: autolysis your own cells digesting themselves – and
putrefaction: bacteria primarily in the digestive tract and lungs
digesting you. But these processes rely on a suite of enzymes
that require specific conditions to work. Too hot and too dry and they don’t work. Too cold: same. Too acidic, not enough oxygen, the list goes on. Each of these conditions
or combinations of these, will result in different types of
soft tissue preservation and therefore, different types of mummies. The Sicilian mummies are spontaneously
mummified but this mummification process is somehow enhanced by some very special
structures that are located inside the crypts of the churches. The special
structures are facilities where the bodies were laid and they are in the form of a
seat or a grid and the bodies there were dehydrating little by little and the
environment was doing the rest, so once they became dry they were
cleaned and put in a coffin or a niche for exhibition. Some of the family members would come
and comb their hair and dine with them and change their clothes. The very fact that there are so
many mummies on display and in such a visible, some would say
gruesome manner goes some way into explaining how the Sicilians
viewed death. In many ways death was much more
visible than it is today. If you think about it, life and death, we are
separate from life from a little wall that is the ceiling. So, when I see the mummies, especially the young ones, it looks like people
don’t want to let go of their loved ones, but you’re saying it’s the
opposite of that, that life and death are natural they’re part of the… Yeah, it’s a way to say OK they are not home,
but I have a place where see it again. And the aspect of the contact
is very important in Sicily. Why did they want to be preserved
in this way forever? It’s very difficult to say, in the sense that
the mummification process in Sicily was always described in a technical
way, we have data that revealed how this was done but no one ever
bothered to say why this was done.

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One thought on “Sicily’s unusual world of the dead – BBC REEL”

  • Could anyone please tell me the title of the movie that clips were used in this…or were the scenes made just for this documentary ? They are speaking Italian…

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