Heart defect likely killed 13th-century teen saint: study

Jun 10, 2010

A teenage saint whose 750-year-old mummified body lay for centuries in a church in central Italy probably died of a congenital heart defect, scientists said Thursday.

The mummy of Santa Rosa of Viterbo, the patron saint of people in exile, is venerated by devout Roman Catholics and celebrated in a festive procession through the town centre every September.

Earlier analysis of her exceptionally well-preserved remains suggested that the 18- or 19-year old died in 1251 of tuberculosis.

"But when we analysed samples from tissue from the lungs, we didn't find any evidence of DNA of mirco-bacterial origin," said Ruggero D'Anastasio, a professor at State University G d'Annunzio in Chieti, Italy and lead author of the study published in the The Lancet.

A low-intensity radiograph of the heart, however, revealed a structural defect inside the consistent with a rare condition called Cantrell's syndrome, which likewise causes malformations of the diaphragm, lower sternum and abdominal wall.

The X-ray also showed signs of a thrombus, or blockage, in the heart. "This is the most probable cause of death," D'Anastasio said by phone.

According to legend, Rosa was already performing miracles and preaching penance as a small child in her native town of Viterbo, then under the control of a Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, frequently in conflict with the pope.

Viterbo was restored to papal power shortly after Rosa correctly predicted the Emperor's death in 1250. She died a year later, and was canonised in 1457.

"We were entrusted by the church with the preservation of the mummy body in 1995," D'Anastasio said.

Many faithful believe her body is uncorrupted by the passage of time.

Explore further: New search planned for grave of Spanish poet Lorca

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Text-the-pope service launched in Italy

May 09, 2010

Roman Catholics can send now text messages of support to Pope Benedict XVI, Italian public television said Saturday, as the Church faces an international paedophile scandal.

Australian saint-to-be tweets from beyond the grave

Feb 05, 2010

An Australian nun has taken to Twitter on behalf of saint-in-waiting Mary MacKillop, bringing the late sister's messages of hope and forgiveness to a new audience a century after she died.

TB the culprit in the great mummy whodunnit

Sep 30, 2009

Around 2,600 years ago, on the banks of the Nile, a bed-ridden lady of high rank coughed and wheezed as tuberculosis ravaged her body, driving her ruthlessly towards the afterlife.

Recommended for you

New search planned for grave of Spanish poet Lorca

1 hour ago

Archeologists will start inspecting land in southern Spain near where the acclaimed poet Federico Garcia Lorca is believed to have been executed and buried at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, officials said Friday.

Seeing dinosaur feathers in a new light

Oct 30, 2014

Why were dinosaurs covered in a cloak of feathers long before the early bird species Archaeopteryx first attempted flight? Researchers from the University of Bonn and the University of Göttingen attempt ...

Mexico archaeologists explore Teotihuacan tunnel (Update)

Oct 29, 2014

A yearslong exploration of a tunnel sealed almost 2,000 years ago at the ancient city of Teotihuacan yielded thousands of relics and the discovery of three chambers that could hold more important finds, Mexican ...

Peruvian dig reveals sacrificial mystery

Oct 29, 2014

Tulane University physical anthropologist John Verano has spent summers in Peru for the last 30 years, digging for ancient bones and solving their secrets. But his most recent work focuses on a unique archeological ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.