Convent and Crypt of the Capuchins of Savoca

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The Capuchin Convent of Savoca is one of the most important religious places in the village. Today it is known all over the world because of the so-called Savoca Mummies, which are kept in the basement of the church. They are the perfectly embalmed bodies of 37 people who lived in Savoca between the 19th and 20th centuries. They were high prelates or members of the Savoca aristocracy.

The Savoca Capuchin Convent

The foundation of the present Capuchin monastery in Savoca dates back to the period between 1603 and 1614. An earlier building had been erected in 1574, but it was located in an area far from the center of Savoca and was subject to constant landslides. The convent consists of two floors and is run by a religious association that makes it available to groups and vacationers. On the ground floor are the library, refectory, kitchen and other facilities, as well as two large cisterns to collect rainwater. On the second floor are the cells of the monks. Inside the convent, several works of art can be admired, such as a large canvas depicting the Last Supper and a 17th century fresco depicting St. Francis receiving the Stigmata on Mount Verna. Other frescoes show the Virgin gathering Capuchins under her cloak and St. Anthony healing a devotee whose leg had been cut off.

The church of the Savoca Convent: architecture and artwork

Attached to the building of the Capuchin Convent in Savoca is a church dedicated to St. Francis. The interior, which has a single nave, contains several artwork. The most important are the Madonna of Loreto from the 16th century and the canvas of the Madonna and Child among Angels with St. Francis and St. Clare from 1661. The first one is also called “Madonna of the Water” by the inhabitants of Savoca. In fact, in the past, during periods of drought, it was carried in procession through the streets of the town to invoke rain. In the second painting, located in the high altar, the landscape behind the Virgin shows an 18th century view of Savoca, perched on its Pentefur Castle.

The veil and the legend of the silkworms

Inside the church of the Capuchin Convent of Savoca, on the right wall, there is a very special relic known as the “veil of the miracle”. According to tradition, in the 17th century a woman from Savoca, who had accumulated several debts, asked Our Lady of Loreto to make her silkworms produce more silk. In return, the woman would give the church an overshoe. The special request was granted and the silk production of the worms was as abundant as ever. The woman forgot her promise and broke it. The following year, the worms grew to such a size that they indicated even greater production than the previous year. However, the moment they finished producing silk, they joined together to form a square veil of slime, and then they all died. The distraught woman left Savoca forever.

The Savoca crypt and mummies

In the basement of the church of the Capuchin Convent is possible to visit the so-called Savoca mummies. They are the mummified bodies of 37 figures of the Savoca aristocracy who lived between the 19th and 20th centuries, still wearing the clothes of that time. As with most of the mummies in the famous Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, natural mummification was used. The bodies were first stripped of their internal organs and then filled with straw or other plant fibers to give the mummy a natural thickness. They were then sprinkled with vinegar and covered with salt and placed in a special room in the Savoca Cathedral called the Colatoio or Putridarium. Here, a well-designed ventilation system promoted constant and uniform drying, which ensured the preservation of the corpses. In 1985, during an act of vandalism, 15 mummies were smeared with green paint. Restoration work was completed in 2012.

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