ATM Cave Belize & The Crystal Maiden

ATM Cave Belize & The Crystal Maiden

Actun Tunichil Muknal (The Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre), most commonly known as the ATM cave in Belize, is an archaeological site known to Mayans, as the entrance to hell. Unfortunately, for the many sacrificed in the gigantic limestone cavern, the ATM cave really was the entrance to hell.

The ATM Cave is Located in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. Accessible only by trekking through the jungle, crossing the river twice, and then swimming into the cave itself, there’s little wonder as to why the Mayans thought this was a special place. The limestone cave itself is large and there are several chambers and cavernous spaces, some currently inaccessible.

Venturing into these caverns, you’ll first encounter pottery, ceramics and cave drawings. Items of particular interest that you’ll see include special ceramics marked with “kill holes,” and cave formations carved into the faces of animals and humans.  When your light hits these carvings the shadows bounce off the cave walls displaying grotesque images and making you feel anything but alone. It’s possible the pottery, ceramics and other ritual evidence here in the outer caverns was the first attempt at pleasing the gods.

Speaking of pleasing their gods, the ATM cave was believed to be the entrance to the Mayan underworld- a place filled with scorpions, and running with rivers of blood. The rain god Chac, the death gods and twelve demon deities were said to have lived here and they would inflict chaos, illness, fear, pain and drought upon the Mayans. So scientists believe that in hard times the head elders of the Mayans would make the treacherous journey through the jungle, crossing the river and swimming into the cave caring their offerings in hopes of appeasing the gods.  Sometimes this may have worked, but if it didn’t, they next would try sacrifice of their blood, as evidence by the obsidian blades found in a deeper cavern. If that still didn’t work, they would make the journey again, this time with a human sacrifice.

Journey past the pottery, past the obsidian blades, and you’ll start to discover skeletal remains from the sacrificed. There are many partial skeletons, some seemingly stuffed into small caverns, others scattered throughout the cave, but there are 7 complete skeletons left in the cave.  These skeletons have been in large “cemented” to the floor due to the calcium carbonate crystalizing the bones onto the cave itself. Some of these skeletons have become the focus of scientists and historians.  One such skeleton is that of a male teenager around fifteen years old. What’s unique about him is that he was tied to be sacrificed, clearly indicating that he was not a willing participant. There is also a seven year old, and a toddler.  Both of these youngsters had the alien shaped head that indicated the practice of skull binding.

The Crystal Maiden

Most famous of all though, resting in a cavern known as the “Cathedral” is a skeleton called “The Crystal Maiden”.

The Crystal Maiden is the skeleton of an eighteen-year-old, just one of dozens sacrificed in the AMT cave, yet her death was considered to be more violent than most since two of her vertebrae are completely crushed. While it was common practice to crush the skulls of the scarified, to crush the vertebrae as well suggests abnormal force.  What really makes The Crystal Maiden so famous though is that her bones have not only been “glued” to the cave floor, but they have been completely calcified. This complete calcification has left her bones looking “fat”, textured and a little sparkly.



It’s no surprise that with so many sacrifices, the ATM caves are rumored to be haunted by both locals and ghost hunting expeditions. It’s said people see shadows, hear voices and feel wind deep in the cave where wind doesn’t happen.  The ATM caves were featured on an episode of Ghost Hunters International, yet the trip seemed to be a bust.


If you want to visit ATM, it is just an hour away San Ignacio, Belize, and another hour walk through the jungle and across shallow rivers. The best way to experience ATM is by hiring a private guide to take you there as early as 7am before you encounter bigger groups. Arrangements for your licensed guide should be made in advance. Inside the cave there are strict rules to follow: No photography, cameras and mobile phones are allowed, backpacks and food are also prohibited.

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Rosalia Lombardo: The Mummy Who Blinks

Rosalia Lombardo: The Mummy Who Blinks

Rosalia Lombardo is known by many names; The World’s Most Beautiful Mummy, Sleeping Beauty, The Girl In The Glass Coffin and of course: The Best Preserved Mummy In The World. Rosalia meant the world to her family, especially her father who sought to preserve her eternally.  But in doing so, she became something larger than life.  A symbol of love, death, loss and a reminder of just how short life can be.  She now attracts thousands of visitors to the Capuchin Catacombs in Sicily where she lays forever encased in glass.

Who is Rosalia Lombardo?

In short, Rosalia is a 98 year old mummy.  The story of Rosalia is speculated, but unknown. Legend has it that she was a sickly child who suffered illnesses and pain until she contracted a pneumonia at the age of 2 and died from her illness. Her father, Mario Lambardo who was a General, was so struck with grief when Rosalia Lombardo died that he couldn’t part with her and wanted her placed in the Capuchin Catacombs.  I wrote about the Capuchin Catacombs already, but essentially, the Catacombs were a place where the dead were displayed in order to be visited by the living.  So, Mario in his grief sought out the famed embalmer Alfredo Salafia to preserve Rosalia forever.  He then approached the monks who ran the Capuchin Catacombs and begged for his daughter to be placed there.  The monks agreed and she was one of the last mummies placed in the catacombs.

Mario Lombardo

Unfortunately, though Rosalia is just 98 years old (a fairly young mummy) the truth about her life before death and her family is speculated, but unconfirmed.  One piece of evidence pointing to Mario being her father is that he supposedly named his second daughter Rosalia (after the first).  But the proof of her heritage doesn’t exist.  In fact, the only “proof” Rosalia the mummy has a sister is that there is a Rosalia Lombardo who was in discussion with the Sicilian government about the poor treatment of Rosalia by National Geographic. But, this supposed sister is strangely quiet and difficult to learn about.  I spend many hours researching her and you can read more about that here if you want.  But, the fact is, that there’s not even a single photo of Rosalia when she was alive to validate any part of her history.  Her story to this day is passed on by the monks who still work in the catacombs.  So what is legend passed down for the romanticism of love and loss, and what is the truth?  That’s hard to say.


                     Alfredo Salafia

One of the properties that makes Rosalia such a beautiful mummy is the embalming process that was used to preserve her.  The mummification was so complex that in 2009 National Geographic took X-ray and MRI scans of Rosalia to determine if she was truly mummified, or if she was a wax replica. The results were staggering, showing that she was indeed truly a mummy and that even her organs were still in functional condition.

Rosalia Lombardo MRI

The problem at the time, was that no one knew how Rosalia had been preserved.  Then, later in 2009 Dario Piombino-Mascali, a biological anthropologist sought out Alfredo’s living descendants and asked to go through his things for clues as to the formula. Luckily for the scientific community they consented and Dario found a handwritten memoir reveling the exact formula injected into Rosalia. The formula consisted of formalin, zinc salts, alcohol, salicylic acid, and glycerin. Many of these ingredients are commonly used today, but the shining star of this concoction is the zinc salts which essentially petrified her body.  While Rosalia was mostly kept intact during embalming, her blood was drained and replaced by the magical formula used by Alfredo.

  Rosalia Lombardo’s Xray By National  Geographic

Rosalia’s Blinking Eyes

To add further to the folklore surrounding the Sleeping Beauty, rumor had it that Rosalia would blink multiple times a day. Some said this was her spirit returning to her body. Others passed this phenomenon off as changes of the light.  Further studies however, including time-lapse photos by National Geographic, show that Rosalia does in fact blink several times an hour! While her eyes generally open just slightly more than 1/8th of an inch, they open to reveal perfectly intact baby blue eyes.  Scientists have determined that changes in humidity in the catacombs cause changes of pressure in her body and thus her eyes to open.  But even so, there are many who prefer to believe that her spirit really does return to her body!

The Fascination

Rosalia has indeed sparked much fascination in the world of science and commoners alike. In fact, some say that Rosalia amplifies human nature in regards to the fascination of the unknown, specifically death and also with the immorality of an immortal body. The story of love, loss, beauty and tragedy have captured thousands of people through multiple generations. It is difficult to untangle the feelings aroused by Rosalia, innocent and young, yet frozen between worlds, un-allowed to decay least her family lose her spirit forever.

Visiting Rosalia

If you want to visit Rosalia, you’re not alone.  Rosalia captures the hearts of thousands each year. She’s located in the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily with over 8,000 other mummies. The catacombs are open nearly everyday and the entry fee is only 3 euros.  Within Palermo, the catacombs are a short walk from the city center, but public transportation is also available.

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Rosalia Lombardo’s Sister

Rosalia Lombardo’s Sister

If you’ve read or watched me before you’ll know that I love to travel and also have a fascination with strange cultural traditions and religious practices.  Rosalia Lombardo introduced me to a whole world of morbid and strange traditions that result in the preservation of bodies for various purposes.

You see, Rosalia is a two year old little girl who is also a nearly 100 year old mummy.  She is best known for her stunning beauty and sleep-like appearance which has given her the nick name Sleeping Beauty.  The strangest part about her though, is that she was purposely mummified by her grieving father to be placed in the Capuchin Catacombs and displayed for all eternity.

Going to see Rosalia was my first experience walking amongst the dead- literally.  But what’s interesting about these dead, is they desired to be walked amongst.  To them, being displayed in this manner allowed them to spend time with their loved ones, be held at high esteem and have an immortal connection to the living.

I’ve done an entire piece on Rosalia and the  Capuchin Catacombs already and you can read that here.

You can also watch my video about the catacombs here.

But, today, I want to talk about Rosalia Lombardo’s sister whose name also happens to be Rosalia Lombardo.  Why? Because a lot of you have asked if I know anything about her.

The truth is, not many people do.

What We Know

Rosalia Lombardo’s sister was born in 1925, but Rosalia (the first one) died in 1920. Obviously, Rosalia (1925) was named in honor of her deceased sister.  From the time Rosalia was little her parents reportedly took her to visit her sister in her glass casket amongst the other residents of the catacombs.  They would sit with her and visit for sometimes hours.  She is said to have continued those visits on her own coming to the catacombs in Palermo every day from Rome.

This particular account is impossible as in our modern age, it takes over ten hours to drive or an hour to fly from Rome to Palermo.  But, it’s a sort of romantic story isn’t it?  A love so strong that the sister that bears the deceased’s name travels hours every day….

Another, more realistic accounts say that Rosalia went and visited her deceased sister every other weekend from Rome and not only created a bond with her, but with the monks who resided there.

Either way, we know Rosalia was loyal and full of love for her sister whom she never got the chance to meet.

What We Think We Know

Besides, this information, the only other thing we have heard rumors on regarding Rosalia’s sister, is a supposed letter written by her in July of 2011, after National Geographic took pictures of Rosalia (the mummy). This is what it said.

“Dear Sirs, respectable authorities, my name is Rosalia Lombardo, I was born in Gaeta, on September 15, 1925, and i’m sister of Rosalia Lombardo, the famed mummy now kept at the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo.
I have the honor, with this letter, to bring to your attention some facts that, in my humble opinion, are incredible and have deeply touched my sensibilities as a sister of the departed.
Every day I see on different television channels and on every public and private networks, people discussing about my sister with references to events and situations, nothing short of “surreal” and also means using petty, but to audiences, which includes the implementation in wave picture of my deceased parents and my daughter Rosanna La Ferla and this systematically happens without due authorization.To all this I would add that the last time I saw my sister, in 2007, her body looked wonderful, the color of her skin was worthy the reputation that made her famous throughout the world.Unfortunately I have to point out that one day I’ve found out that the creature who seemed asleep for so long, now seems another person: she has different hairs, her eyes are now half open and the beautiful color of her skin has become strange … it seems tarnished!

And you want to know how did all this happen? Want to know who has irreparably ruined my little sister? I know, and when I tried, through my lawyers, to obtain justice on the whole story, have been ignored, threatened, and “invited” to shut up!

But since I have only a few years of life, considering my old age, me and my daughter Rosanna are not afraid of anyone and we have nothing to fear and we want to say the “whole truth” on this sorrowful event that “all”, including institutions, covered up until now.

Sending you all the echo of my pain because i hope to open a gate to the possibility that my sister can return that creature that has been admired from all over the world, and not a victim of poor body experiments that have irreparably compromised her body.
Please, listen to me and to my daughter Rosanna in sign of respect for my family and for little Rosalia!
Thanks for your attention. “

If the letter was truthfully written by the sister, it indicates that she blames National Geographic for ruining her sister’s body by exposing it to air. 

Other records do seem to back this up, but they’re hard to verify.  One official-looking document from 2012, seemed to indicate that Rosalia filed an official complaint against National Geographic with the country.  That same report said that since Rosalia was property of Italy, and was not technically “owned” by her sister, it was unclear what would come of the complaint or if anything would be done.

Now, let me state again, those official-looking documents aren’t verified to be real, but they’re

the only clues I could find on the internet. 

Another thing to note, is that National Geographic supposedly got the right to research Rosalia BECAUSE she was decaying. Supposedly, the glass of her coffin had broken a few times in the past, and unskilled monks and resealed it, but the air that was being let in had begun to affect her preservation.  In 2009 National Geographic got the rights to come in and take pictures and X-Rays and study Rosalia before she was transferred into a new nitrogen chamber to keep her best preserved.  National Geographic has claimed that they never took the glass off of Rosalia or did anything else to damage her.

While I tried to research the genealogy of Rosalia Lombardo to see if she’s still alive (she would be 93) and if she had kids or grand kids that I could learn about, but I couldn’t find much.  Most of the Rosalia Lombardo’s I did find, were born in the 1800’s which was too early. So that’s pretty all we know about Rosalia Lombardo’s sister.

In essence, the only thing we know for sure is that Rosalia existed and that she loved her sister.  The rest is really just speculation at this point.

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The Capuchin Catacombs

The Capuchin Catacombs

A few days ago I made a video talking about one of my favorite places on earth… the Capuchin Catacombs (or Crypt).  The catacombs are located in Palermo Sicily and are famous for being the largest collection of mummies in the world (sorry Egypt). On perfectly mummified little girl named Rosalia Lombardo has become the number one attraction at this sacred site

The Capuchin Catacombs was founded in the 16th century when monks were forced to create a crypt below the original cemetery because they had ran out of room to put the bodies.

In 1599, one of their beloved brothers Silvestro of Gubbio died and out of grief they decided to mummify him so that they could keep his physical body with them.

The process of mummifying their brother consisted of placing him on a dehydration rack and leaving him there for several months before washing his body in vinegar, redressing him in his robes and ropes he had worn as penance,  and placing him in a central place in the new underground crypt.  His brothers could then visit him and pray with him, much like they had done in his life.

This started a tradition of other monks, nuns and priests being mummified and placed in the crypt in areas where they could still be visited, prayed with, an on occasion-have their hands held by their loved ones.

While the catacombs were intended only for the friars, lay people began to request to be mummified and placed in the crypt for their loved ones to visit them.  An entrepreneurial monk took hold of this demand and created a system where non-friars could be mummified and placed in niches in the catacombs on the condition that the church received donations both in their life and death. If at any point the relatives of the deceased stopped paying the donation, the body would be removed from the desirable niche and placed on a shelf until the payment was resumed.

Now, because it was an expensive proposition to be mummified and displayed in the catacombs, it became a symbol of status and wealth.  Some of the professionals and other local luminaries would request their best outfit to be displayed with them- in some cases, they would even request their clothing to be changed to the season or to the fashion of the day.

The relatives of the dead would sometimes take on the duty of keeping the deceased looking presentable to the public, but in other cases it was a duty handed off to the monks.  However, relatives were known to visit their loved ones just for the sake of visiting them, sitting with them, holding their hands, and praying with them.

The last monk to be mummified was Brother Riccardo in 1871, but some wealthy people continued to request burial in the catacombs up until 1880. While the monks stopped mummifying people in the 80s, they still allowed some already mummified people to join their ranks until the 1920s.  One of these, was Rosalia Lombardo.

Rosalia was a two year old who had died from an pneumonia on December 6th, 1920.  Her father Mario Lombardo, was so full of grief upon her dying, that he reached out to Alfredo Salafia, a well known embalmer and had her preserved forever.  He then took her body to the Capuchin Catacombs and asked if she could be placed there as her final resting place.  The church agreed to take her, and she was nearly the last body to ever be admitted.

What’s made Rosalia the most famous mummy though, is the fact that she is so life-like and so intact. Alfredo Salafia’s perfect mixture of embalming fluids kept Rosalia so complete that recent CAT scans show even her organs are still intact.

More recently, Rosalia caused quite the commotion when scientists confirmed that the local rumors that she still sometimes blinks, are true.  According to  these scientists who set up cameras to monitor her eyes, the change in humidity in the catacombs results in her opening and closing her eyes throughout the day.  The cameras also caught the two year old’s eyes, perfectly blue and perfectly still intact.


Click Here To Read About Rosalia In Detail


Besides Rosalia, the catacombs contain 8000 corpses and 1252 mummies, making it the largest collection of mummies in the world.

What’s the experience like?

While the outside of the catacombs is quite plain, the inside is more jarring than you might think.

As you walk in, your greeted by bodies lining both walls. Some of them are hanging, having been wired onto the wall, and others are stacked in piles.  One of the most shocking things for me was the look of agony on their faces. Now the mummies aren’t actually in pain (obviously), but being wired to a wall upright for 1,000 years causes the skin and mouth to drop downwards creating the illusion of screaming.

As you walk further into the crypt, you’ll notice the mummies are segregated into monks, priests and nuns, men women and children.  Most of the mummies are either displayed or on shelf, but some, especially the kids and infants are set in poses or have been put into scenes.  One that I remember was a brother and sister and with their favorite toys sitting together on a chair.

While many people might find The Capuchin Catacombs a bit morbid, I would highly recommend visiting it. After all, the worst thing it could do is remind you of just how short life is, and how mortal you are.




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