This Italian Church Has a 500-Year-Old Crocodile Hanging from the Ceiling

The Santuario Della Beata Vergine Maria Delle Grazie, in Italy’s Lombardia region, is an old church famous for having a real taxidermied crocodile hanging from the ceiling.

What’s the last thing you expect to see when you look up in a church? Granted, there are plenty of interesting answers one can think of, but ‘a crocodile’ definitely ranks up there with the quirkiest of them. But if you travel to the small municipality of Curtatone, in Lombardia, Italy, you’ll find a church with a five-century-old crocodile hanging from the ceiling. It’s a peculiar sight, to say the least, but one that has been around for as long as anyone can remember. How the croc wound up at the Santuario Della Beata Vergine Maria Delle Grazie is, and will probably remain a mystery, but its purpose had been linked to religious symbolism.

In ancient times, Christianity associated reptilian creatures like snakes, dragons, and crocodiles with evil, either as personifications of the devil or simply animals that lead humans to sin. So having it chained high up in the vault of the church served both as a warning for churchgoers, but also as a symbol of victory of good over evil.

While it might look like a prop at first, this is a real embalmed Nile crocodile (Crocodilus niloticus) believed to be at least 500 years old, with the church itself dating back to the 13th century. Over the years, many legends surrounding the origin of the animal circulated around Lombardia, but the two most popular ones involve a local animal menagerie and two brave brothers who fought the animal.


Some believe that the crocodile was caught and killed after escaping a private exotic zoo on the estate of Francesco Gonzaga, while others claim that the animal one day attacked two brothers resting on the banks of the Mincio River. One of them asked for the help of the Holy Virgin, and armed with a knife attacked and killed the crocodile.

According to another local legend, the crocodile was let out of its cage when a circus stopped in the area for a show, taking refuge among the reeds and lotus flowers. It is said the crocodile was even blessed with the gift of human speech by the Holy Virgin.


Whether you believe in these stories or not, the hanging crocodile of the Santuario Della Beata Vergine Maria Delle Grazie is a worthwhile attraction. It’s quirky, but it also speaks to the taxidermy skills of the monks whose job it was to turn the crocodile into a permanent exhibit.

Interestingly, this is not the only Italian church with a real crocodile on display. The Church of Santa Maria delle Vergini, in Macerata, and the Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime, in Ponte Nossa, have their own stuffed crocodiles.