The Bones of Capuchin Crypt
Fall is the perfect season for pumpkin pie, hot apple cider, and a good ghost story. Why not plan a trip to fit the season? Rome, with its many ancient sites and beautiful churches, is a popular destination at any time of the year. There’s one church in particular, though, that you simply must visit if you enjoy ghostly Halloween parties: the Capuchin Crypt, commonly called the “bone church,” underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini.
When the Capuchin monks came to this church from their old monastery in 1631, they brought with them the physical remains of their deceased brethren: a staggering 300 carts full of bones. With the bones, they decorated the crypt underneath the main church. As the years passed, monks would die, be buried, and then eventually be exhumed to make room for new burials. The newly exhumed bones would then be added to the decorations in the crypt.
Now, you can add a visit to the bone church to your Rome itinerary. Step inside the crypt and see chandeliers made of bones, arches consisting of skulls, and whole skeletons, some clad in the monks’ brown habits, lying in niches or standing guard underneath arches. There are different crypts which showcase the different bones of the body, including the skull, pelvis, leg bone, and thigh bone.
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What do visitors make of this unusual site? Some call it grotesque, macabre, and disturbing. Some, however, see in it what the monks intended: a reminder of our own mortality. One of the skeletons holds a scale as a reminder of the final judgment after death, when Christians believe they will be judged on how they have lived in this life. A plaque in the crypt has a message from the over 4,000 monks whose remains surround the visitors: “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.” The story does not end with the bone church, however, as Christians believe that, at the second coming of Christ, their bodies will be raised from the dead. Viewed in this light, the bone church stands not as a depressing prediction of our future, but rather as a reminder that we all will die someday, so, in order to prepare for that final judgment, we ought to live well.
As part of your living well, why don’t you call your local FROSCH agent to add a visit to the Capuchin bone church to your Rome itinerary? Rest assured: it will be a memorable sight.
By Mary Therese Malone