Paleopathological Approach to the Study of a Christian Relic: The Case of the Blessed Maria Lorenza Longo

Mirko Traversari, Luca Ventura, Elisabetta Cilli, Donata Luiselli, Giancarlo Troncone, Arturo Brunetti, Sirio Cocozza, Enrico Petrella, Robin N.M. Feeney, Claudio Bellevicine


The Blessed Maria Lorenza Longo, founder of the hospital of Santa Maria del Popolo degli Incurabili and the Order of the Capuchin Poor Clares in Naples, Italy, died on 21 October 1539 and was recently beatified on 9 October 2021. The relic, a fully skeletonized cranium, underwent visual and radiological inspection. The biological profile supports the attribution of female sex of the relic, whereas the age at death is estimated to be younger than that reported by historians. A paleopathological survey was conducted to evaluate the historical reports of poisoning or rheumatoid arthritis affecting Maria Longo. Given the limited skeletal data, it was  not possible to confirm the presence of these claims. No obvious indicators of dietary deficiencies were observed, and the tertiary syphilis hypothesized by textual sources was excluded. Postmortem alterations of the relic were clearly visible on the superior aspect of the cranium and testified to the worship of the relic.



paleoradiology, paleopathology, relics, neurosyphilis

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