The Guardian - Medicis' secret crypt unearthed John Hooper in Rome Thursday July 8, 2004

2005-09-07 08:23:48
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September 07 2005

The Guardian - Medicis' secret crypt unearthed John Hooper in Rome Thursday July 8, 2004

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A long-rumoured secret crypt of Italy's mighty Medici family was discovered by scientists yesterday after a hunt reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. The vaulted chamber was found under a stone floor behind the main altar of the Medici chapels in the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. Under the gaze of sculptures by Michelangelo and his pupils, researchers lifted a stone slab to find seven steps leading down to the entrance. According to Italian media reports, the hidden crypt is between 2.1 metres (7ft) and 2.4 metres high and six metres by at least four metres wide. Yesterday's discovery is the latest development in a remarkable project. Since last month, a team of paleopathologists from American and Italian universities have been digging up the bodies of 49 members of the Medici family buried in the church of San Lorenzo. They aim to carry out tests to build a picture of the lives - and deaths - of a ruling elite that held power in Florence and much of Tuscany for more than three centuries. On Tuesday researchers opened the tomb of the last of the dynasty, the grand duke Gian Gastone de' Medici - and were astonished to find it empty. Gino Fornaciari, of Florence University, told the Ansa news agency: "Behind a first marble panel we expected to find a second stone slab. Instead, we found a wall." In trying to locate the final resting place of Gian Gastone, who died in 1737, they stumbled on the secret crypt. The stone slab blocking the entrance to the stairs was found a few metres away from Gian Gastone's mysteriously empty tomb. It was known that some of the Medici family's remains were moved from their original burial places in 1857.

And, according to the early 20th-century British historian GF Young, the coffins of Gian Gastone and his grandfather had been moved to a secret crypt accessible only down hidden stairs. Until yesterday's discovery, his account had been dismissed as baseless rumour. However, inside the crypt, there were another eight bodies, one of an adult and the remaining seven of children. Most of the remains were in an advanced state of decomposition. But one of the children had been expertly embalmed and vestiges of clothing remained on the body. The "400,000 (-£267,000) exhumation project involves scientists from the universities of Florence, Pisa, New York, Long Island and Minnesota. Even before yesterday's sensa tion, it had yielded interesting results.

The researchers are already convinced that the family was not, as previously believed, afflicted with gout, but with a severe form of arthritis. Piero de' Medici, who ruled Florence from 1464 to 1469 and was known as Piero the Gouty, was so badly crippled that he was often able to use only his tongue. Historians hope the project will help clear up some of the puzzles about the Medicis, including the death in 1589 of Prince Francesco I, who was said to have died of malaria but is long suspected to have been poisoned.

Source by Redazione

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