International News

Empty Tomb at Vatican Raises Questions About Missing Bodies

Emanuela Orlandi is pictured in a photo that was distributed after her presumed kidnapping in 1983. (Photo: Catholic News Service)

The Tablet Staff

The Vatican opened on July 11 two graves in the Teutonic Cemetery next to St. Peter’s Basilica in hopes of finding the remains of Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican bank employee who has been missing since 1983, and found that Orlandi’s remains weren’t there.

The excavators also found that two bodies that were presumed to be buried at the site also are missing.

Orlandi was 15 years old when she disappeared in June 1983. Speculation regarding her disappearance and whereabouts range from that she was kidnapped by terrorists to she was taken by the Italian mob or was involved in human trafficking within the Vatican’s walls to she fled Italy. 

New rumors arose in 2018, when according to Crux, the Orlandi family lawyer received an anonymous coded letter suggesting that the family “Look where the angel points.” The reference led the family and the Vatican to the statue of an angel in the German cemetery of the Vatican, underneath which the tombs of Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe and Duchess Carlota Federica of Mecklenburg were supposedly laid over 200 years ago. 

Since Orlandi’s disappearance, visitors have laid flowers at the foot of the statue in the hopes that her body might somehow also buried beneath the ground alongside the two women. 

At the request of the Orlandi family, with whom the Vatican remains in close connection, the Vatican had initially planned to open only one of the two tombs beneath the statue, but  interim Director of the Vatican Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, said the Vatican later decided to open both graves to “avoid misunderstandings.”

Excavators found the burial site empty.

“They found nothing, not even the remains of those who were meant to officially be buried there,” Pietro Orlandi, the missing girl’s brother, told NBC News. “I am relieved by it. They dug under one of the tombs and found a room underneath completely empty. In the other one, they found a sarcophagus, also empty.”

“A careful inspection of the tomb of Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe brought to light a large underground space of about 4 meters by 3.70 that is completely empty. Subsequently, the second tomb, that of Princess Charlotte Frederica of Mecklemburg was opened. No human remains were found inside,” Gisotti said in a statement, according to Vatican News.

With two empty tombs and the location of Orlandi still unknown, Gisotti noted that investigations are underway to review changes that took place in the cemetery area at the end of the 19th century, and between the 1960s and 1970s, in the hopes that any changes will offer clues about the missing bodies.