Capuchin mummy, Palermo, Italy. (See their mummified bretheren in the Capuchin catacombs, Rome. Copyright CABINET magazine, all rights reserved.

Another Advertisement for Myself:

This Sunday, I’ll leave for Rome, to spend two weeks in the Eternal City as a scholar-in-residence at the American Academy, a venerable center for scholars and artists. While in Italy, I’ll be researching a book-in-progress (in progress, but not yet sold, if any prospective publishers are listening) about a subject dear to my heart, or rather that wizened organ I regard as a heart: The Pathological Sublime, which constant readers will recognize from other posts in these pages. To that end, I’ll be interviewing curators and taking private tours of medical museums in Rome, Florence, and Bologna. Of course, I’ll be stopping in at La Specola, famed for its “Anatomical Venuses” (wax women—Baroque obstetric models, used to teach medical students about the mysteries of female anatomy and that Mystery of Mysteries, the womb).


Anatomical Venus . Copyright La Specola; all rights reserved.

On this busman’s holiday, I hope to make a Grand Tour of Italy’s legendary repositories of High Weirdness. Fellow connoisseurs of the weird, what MUST I see in Rome, Florence, and Bologna?

High on my list of morbid-tourism must-sees are any shrines sacred to the memory of “incorruptible” saints or mutilated martyrs, venerated reliquaries, eroto-goth masterpieces such as Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Theresa” (or any other manifestations of Catholic morbidity or the sublimated libido in religious drag), mossy grottos, lugubrious haunts, museums of true crime or implements of torture, psychogeographic ley lines and ectoplasm-spattered scenes of historically traumatic events, Italian fascist architecture (as opposed to, you know, German fascist architecture airlifted into the heart of Italy), addresses sacred to the memory of Surrealist or Futurist activity, and of course any natural history museums or medical museums I might have missed (extra points for museums noted for their pathological or teratological specimens).

Suggestions, please?


Mummies, Capuchin catacombs, Rome. Copyright Atlas Obscura; all rights reserved.

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    One Comment

    1. Hi Mark, enjoy your trip to Rome! I heartily recommend the Church of Santa Maria della Orazione pour la Morte. It’s located on the Via Giulia. It’s facade features rather grizzly winged skulls and a bust of an Egyptian Death God (not kidding!) You need a bit of luck to view the catacombs, but sometimes you can get a monk to take you down. They rival the Capuchin catacombs, including a beautiful chandeleir made of monks finger bones, and the obligatory skulls and furniture made of bones.
      Another favorite is Tasso’s Oak, on the Janiculum Hill. It’s dedicated to the memory of the great poet who wrote poems beneath its verdant branches. Of course now it’s a dead tree held up by a series of iron rings and bars: not terribly grizzly, but definitely a monument that now conveys the exact opposite of what it was once meant to convey.

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