A cavernous underground space located near a cemetery in the Vatican was revealed Saturday to hold thousands of bones belonging to dozens of both adult and non-adult individuals. The remains were discovered amid an ongoing investigation for clues as to the disappearance of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi over three decades ago. The girl was the daughter of a high-ranking Vatican employee who lived within the walls of the holy city. She disappeared while traveling home from a music lesson in Rome.
Forensic workers are now unearthing the bones from the burial chambers before subjecting them to DNA testing in a bid to establish their identities, a process that Vatican officials say could take an indeterminate amount of time to analyze.
The disappearance of the teenage girl has been of major interest to the people of Italy since it occurred, with many speculating that her disappearance may have been the result of conspiracies involving anyone from the mafia to the highest levels of the Roman Catholic officialdom headquartered at the papal enclave.
One theory even posits that she was the victim of a botched kidnapping operation whereby she was to be held at ransom to ensure the freedom of the ultra-nationalist Turkish gunman who shot and wounded Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square in 1981.
Interest in the mystery of Orlandi’s disappearance was rekindled last summer when her family received an anonymous tip informing them that Emanuela’s remains were possibly located in the tombs of Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe and Princess Charlotte Federica of Mecklenburg at the Teutonic Cemetery, according to CNN.
The family received an image portraying a sculpture with the note, “look where the angel is pointing”—a hint that ultimately guided them to the Teutonic Cemetery alongside Saint Peter’s Basilica.
While the Vatican agreed to open the tombs earlier this month, no human remains or traces of coffins were found. Vatican officials claim that the princesses’ remains were removed during the 1960s and ‘70s during renovation work.
However, two ossuaries storing the bones of the dead were uncovered during the investigation.
Genetics expert Giorgio Portera, who has worked on behalf of the Orlandi family, told the Associated Press that the collection of bones “thrown into a cavity” underneath the Teutonic College amounted to an “enormous number,” and the find was unexpected. He also noted that many of the bones were found in fragments, which complicates their work.
Emanuela’s brother, 60-year-old Pietro Orlandi, noted that the discovery and subsequent investigation of the ossuaries has been of “great satisfaction” to his family. He told CNN:
“In the ossuaries, there shouldn’t be any recent bones, so if there are, even if it’s not Emanuela Orlandi, it will be a problem for the Vatican.
There are hundreds, thousands of bones and now the Vatican is classifying them by age and will investigate the more recent ones.
To think if she was buried in the ossuary all these years, just 200 meters from our house, it would be devastating.”
Continuing, he noted that the independence of the forensic investigators is crucial to ensure that objectivity remains uncompromised. He said:
“The Vatican doesn’t want this out and doesn’t want to be seen in this way, but finally I feel like they have taken a step back and we have moved a step forward.”
The Vatican made a statement on Saturday stressing “its openness toward the Orlandi family” in agreeing to the investigations, even if only based on an “anonymous report,” while making zero mention of the vast amount of remains discovered under the Teutonic Cemetery.