Vatican Tomb Investigation Uncovers Empty Graves

Opening of the tomb of Duchess Charlotte Frederica of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in the Vatican’s Teutonic Cemetery, July 11, 2019. Credit: Vatican Media.

By Hannah Brockhaus

The opening of two tombs on Vatican property revealed both graves to be completely empty, providing no answers in the unsolved disappearance of an Italian girl 36 years ago, the Vatican reported Thursday.

“The research has given negative results: no human findings or funerary urns were found,” stated Holy See spokesman Alessandro Gisotti July 11.

The tombs, located on Vatican extra-territorial property adjacent to Vatican City State, were opened in an attempt to find a clue to the 1983 vanishing of Emanuela Orlandi.

Orlandi was the daughter of an envoy of the Prefecture of the Pontifical House and a citizen of Vatican City State. Her disappearance at age 15 has been the subject of international intrigue, including suspicion about the Vatican’s role, since it occurred.

The Vatican authorized the opening of the graves after a request by Orlandi’s family, which had last year received an anonymous letter suggesting a clue could be found near a large statue of an angel in the Teutonic College cemetery.

The tombs opened were those of Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe, who died in 1836, and Duchess Charlotte Frederica of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, who died in 1840.

Charlotte’s monument bears an inscription indicating it was erected in 1848 by her son, Frederick VII of Denmark.

According to Gisotti, von Hohenlohe’s tomb revealed an empty underground compartment of approximately 13 by 12 feet. The opening of the sarcophagus of Charlotte also revealed no human remains. Relatives of both women were informed of the discovery.

The Vatican’s next step following the discovery, Gisotti explained, will be to look into documentation about structural renovations that took place in the cemetery at the end of the 1800s and in the 1960s and ’70s.

The opening of the graves was performed by the Vatican construction staff and overseen by a forensic anthropologist and his team, the Vatican gendarmerie, and by the Vatican tribunal’s promoter of justice.

Members of Orlandi’s family, and their lawyer, were also present.

Meanwhile, in a latter development, the Vatican has found two ossuaries believed to maybe belong to the German noblewomen whose tombs were found empty earlier this week.

According to Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti, the ossuaries will be opened for testing July 20, in order to determine if they belong to Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe and Duchess Charlotte Frederica, who both died in the 19th century.

The women’s tombs and monuments, located in the Teutonic cemetery on Vatican extra-territorial property adjacent to Vatican City State, were opened July 11 in an attempt to find a clue to the 1983 disappearance of an Italian teen, Emanuela Orlandi.

That the tombs were found empty of any human remains, including the women supposedly buried there, was considered an unseen twist in the mystery of the missing Orlandi.

Gisotti said July 13 documents had been found confirming that in the 1960s and 1970s an extensive renovation of the Teutonic College and the cemetery was carried out.

Staff examined the rooms of the college adjacent to the empty tombs, finding two ossuaries placed under the pavement via hatches in the floor.

“These were immediately sealed for subsequent examination and detection of the bone materials lying therein,” Gisotti stated. The ossuaries are scheduled to be opened on the morning of July 20, in the presence of scientific experts.

Emanuela Orlandi was the daughter of an envoy of the Prefecture of the Pontifical House and a citizen of Vatican City State. Her disappearance at age 15 has been one of Italy’s biggest unsolved mysteries and the subject of international intrigue, including suspicion about the Vatican’s role, since it occurred.

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