Sansevero Chapel – Mystery of the “Anatomical Machines”

Amazing places

Sansevero Chapel was once place of worship for Sansevero Family, then transformed into their burial chapel and now museum, which holds some very strange objects.

Sansevero Chapel is located northwest of the church of San Domenico Maggiore, in the historic center of Naples, Italy. First mention about Sansevero Chapel dates back to 1590 when John Francesco di Sangro, Duke of Torremaggiore had this chapel built as a private place in the gardens near Sansevero family residence – the Palazzo Sansevero. The Chapel was converted into private place of worship by Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero. He was the reason why now we can see there the Masonic symbols. It was the Prince of Sansevero, who started to form the collection it has today. And let me tell you – some of the objects inside are very strange and caused sleepless nights to many scientists


Interior of Sansevero Chapel, source

If you vist Sansevero Chapel, in the underground chamber are located probably the most famous Anatomical Machines. These are not early robots or something similar. They are skeletons of a man and woman in upright position. But what makes them so different from all the other skeletons?


The Anatomical Machines, as they are presented in the Sansevero Chapel. source

The artery and vein systems are almost in perfect condition. The “machines” were made by the doctor Giuseppe Salerno of Palermo, under the direction of Raimondo di Sangro. With the discovery of deeds and notes, it is possible that these were created in 1763-64. What makes it even more interesting is that till now, scientists have no idea, which procedures or materials were used to obtain such an exceptional preservation of the circulatory system. 


Woman’s Anatomical Machine at Sansevero Chapel, photography: Joanna Ebenstein

However, there are some small leads, that could tell scientists how is this possible. One of them is a note from 18. century now knows as Short Note. It is anonymous guide to the Palace and Sansevero Chapel and it speaks about “injection“. Based on this it was proposed, that Salerno injected some sort of substance based on mercury into the corpses which would allow the “metalization” of the blood vessels.


Man’s Anatomical Machine at Sansevero Chapel, photography: Joanna Ebenstein

Another theory states, that it is a result of “reconstruction” using different materials. These would most likely be beeswax and some sort of colorant. It is truly remarkable how someone was able to recreate arteries and veins, even the smallest vessels. And we know, that knowledge of the anatomy at that time was not to known. But the bones and skulls belongs, without any doubt, to two real human skeletons. 


Anatomical Machine in Sansevero Chapel


Anatomical Machines in Sansevero Chapel have visible veins and arteries


These Anatomical Machines are true to the black legends about the Prince of Sansevero. People believed that he killed two of his servants – man and a woman. After that he had the bodies embalmed so that all the viscera, veins and arteries are visible. People also believed, that he killed no less than 7 cardinals to obtain from their bones and from their skin seven chairs.


Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero, source

It is enough to listen to visitors to the Sansevero Chapel to hear the most bizarre stories about Raimondo di Sangro and the works he commissioned, and it is not rare to find passers-by making the sign of the cross in front of the Palazzo Sansevero to ward off the evil spells of the feared and “diabolical” Prince.


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Michaela Miklusak

Michaela Miklusak is deputy editor of and big technology enthusiast. Michaela now lives in Singapore, where she studies System Engineering and Informatics.

1 Comment to Sansevero Chapel – Mystery of the “Anatomical Machines”

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