The Torricellan Mummy
A “Bailiff” the mummified body which has come to light during restoration work at Saint James’s Church.
This sixteenth Century find is of scientific, cultural and historic interest.
By Luigi Copertino
Many inhabitants of Torricella have been able to see with their own eyes a mummified body that was dug up more than a year ago during restoration work on the foundations of the town’s Mother Church. This discovery caused a sensation amongst Torricellans and, for a long time, people were talking about it everywhere, in their homes, in public and in the market place. Public interest and opinions about the mummy declined, however, over the following months, after the mummy was removed from the Church. Its removal has not meant the Commune’s Administration were getting rid of an “encumbrance” or an “inopportune” historic heritage of the town, but, quite the opposite, they did so for the purposes of restoration and study.
The administrators’ intended to ensure that an important moment in Torricella’s history was preserved, both with regards to cultural identity and from the scientific point of view, whilst at the same time sorting out the mummy with all the due care, respect and “sanctity” due to a human being, albeit dead, (who, since we are dealing with a man from the 16th Century, and considering his place of burial, had certainly been comforted in life by all the Christian sacraments).
In fact the mummy was placed in a room at the Town Hall, in order for the anthropologist, Dr. Luigi Capasso, from the Government’s Department of Archeology’s office at Chieti, to carry out scientific research with the aim of providing it with a historic identity. Initial research led to the deduction that the body had been involved in a very rare, natural, spontaneous process of “mummification” or “calcification”. The mummy was that of a man who had lived in about the 16th Century and, considering the remains of his clothes, he must have been an illustrious personage in 16th Century Torricella. We need not necessarily think of him as an aristocrat, or a nobleman, but more probably a merchant or a wealthy artisan, or maybe a “bailiff”. In medieval and renaissance villages of the centre-south the bailiff held office as a typical public magistrate, corresponding to the “podesta” in 14th, 15th and 16th century communes in northern Italy (but having nothing to do with the “podesta”, nowadays called the mayor, at the top of the commune in fascist times). Research carried out so far has involved two fields of investigation at the same time: the biological, because it is a mummified body, and cultural, because he was still clothed. From the biological point of view anthropological analyses have been carried out, and others might yet be made, which permit partial recognition of the physical and biological characteristics of Torricella’s ancient inhabitants. If this research were to continue, present day Torricellans might be able to learn in depth about the “ethnic-biological” characteristics of their antecedents, that is, of an anthropological-racial nature.
We might be able to discover, moreover, the blood group the mummy in question had in life and also, from studying the contents of his stomach and intestines, we might be able to learn more about the food eaten at that time by the ancestors of today’s Torricellans. Other facts could be extracted by studying intestinal parasites, the hair etc. From a cultural and historic point of view, always provided that the researchinitiated were to be concluded, we could get specific details about his clothes, his shoes, his hat and the materials used for his garments. These latter details could even furnish us with ethnological information, relative to the usage, customs and folklore of Torricella in the 1500’s.
As the reader will certainly have noticed, up to here we have used the conditional tense and have noted several times that the early research might continue. And this precisely is the problem, that is, unfortunately, research has been interrupted more than anything due to a lack of funds. We feel, therefore, the need to appeal not only to all public bodies, the Commune, the Mountain Community, the Government Department of Antiquities, etc., but also to all interested private individuals and especially to the inhabitants of Torricella Peligna, because it deals with their cultural and anthropomorphic history, to ensure that the requisite finances be found, as soon as possible, necessary both for continuing scientific research and also for settling the mummy in a vacuum reliquary with dignity and respect, as had been the original intentions of the Commune’s Administration. We have said “as soon as possible” because now it is a race against time, since, in it’s present provisional state, there is a strong risk that the mummy might start to putrefy and thus to decompose. The only alternative to conservation, whether by private or public funds, would be to bury the mummy in the Torricella cemetery in an anonymous tomb. This would mean that Torricella would lose this precious chance to investigate its roots more deeply; which is not, as it might apparently seem, merely historic curiosity.
© Amici di Torricella Anno II – N. 3 – dicembre 1990
Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca