Monday, July 12, 2004

Medicis Suffered From Rare Arthritis

Medicis' secret crypt exposed: "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.

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.

Even before discovery of the crypt, the Medici Exhumation Project 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. "