In 1599, Capuchin monks discovered that their catacombs contained a mysterious preservative that helped mummify the dead. As a result, more than 8,000 Sicilians from all walks of life chose to be buried here.
The corpses range in date from the late 1500s to 1920 and most were embalmed before their display. Giuseppe Tommasi, prince of Lampedusa and author of the famous Sicilian work The Leopard, was buried in the cemetery next to the catacombs in 1957.
In the 1940s, Allied bombs hit the monastery, destroying many of the mummies. The Capuchin Monastery (Convento dei Cappuccini) itself was rebuilt over the remains of the original medieval church in 1623 and was once again restored in the early 20th century.