The Bone Cemetery: A visit to Capuchin Crypt in Rome

Capuchin Crypt, Bone church, Rome
I think many of us have a morbid fascination with death. If we go back to the times of Ancient Egypt we can see through the extraordinary process of mummification that the notion of afterlife has been a question that’s plagued society; those who have died are gone but not forgotten. It’s believed by many that life continues after death in one form or another and the Capuchin Friars who lived in Rome were no exception.

The Capuchin Friars belong to a Roman Catholic religious order of brothers and priests, inspired by the ideals of St. Francis. Such ideals place emphasis on living as simply as possible whilst possessing a passion for peace, honesty and charity. This all seems normal enough, so that’s why the existence of Capuchin Crypt – aka the Bone Cemetery – appears even more surprising and bizarre. What you can find beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini is Capuchin Crypt, a small space of six chamber like chapels containing nearly 4000 bodies belonging to the Capuchin Friars.

Skull bones in Capuchin Crypt, Rome,

Bone collecting, to put it simply, seems like an odd tradition but it was seen as an act of respect. Christianity shows immense devotion to the deceased, but there was another, more specific reason for preserving the dead in this way: the friars were convinced that among these bones were those of the founders of the Order, the first generation of Capuchins, and among them were many holy men.

As soon as I entered the Crypt I was greeted with something I didn’t expect to find: a certain type of prettiness. I know, right, how the hell can a place filled with skulls, kneecaps and collarbones look pretty? It’s a good question, but it was due to the arrangements of the bones – flower shapes were made up of ribs and vertebrae; and hips curved into a mosaic of hearts. Everything is intricately and delicately formed, it’s a vision of artistry that puts a new spin to the term ‘interior design’.

Capuchin Crypt, Bone Church, Rome

Capuchin Crypt, Rome, Italy

Of course, describing this place as ‘pretty’ probably doesn’t tie in with the general consensus, because on the other hand, it’s ghoulish, creepy and scary. Everything you expect it to be. For me, the ghoulish bits were the mummified bodies which were still coated in their robes to give them a life like quality. Unfortunately, taking photos were prohibited in the crypt, but I discreetly flouted this rule to take a few interior shots (sorry, some rules are there to be broken!). The place was spilt up into six small crypts, or chambers to get a greater sense of imagery, each possessing their own theme:

  1. Crypt of the Resurrection
  2. The Mass Chapel
  3. Crypt of Skulls
  4. The Crypt of Pelvises
  5. Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones
  6. Crypt of the Three Skeletons

Interestingly, the Crypt of the Three Skeletons is the only area which the human skeleton can be seen in its entirety, and these three skeletons happen to be those of very young children precariously resting on a shelf of hip bones. The impact of this says that death has no favourite age. As well as this suggestion, there are many other motifs made of skeletal remains, such as scales, and my favourite – a clock made from foot bones and fingers.

Capuchin Crypt, Rome, Chapel of Bones

“What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”


 General Information about Capuchin Crypt

Nearest Metro: Two minutes walk from Barberini
Admission fee: €7
Opening hours: Fri.–Wed. 9am–2pm and 3pm–6pm


Is this a place you’d want to visit…?



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'The Bone Cemetery: A visit to Capuchin Crypt in Rome' have 17 comments

  1. November 11, 2013 @ 10:56 am Agness

    Rome is one of my favorite cities, but this place scares me :-O

    Reply

    • November 11, 2013 @ 6:35 pm admin

      Haha this post should have been posted 10 days ago to coincide with Halloween. It’s not for the easily spooked!

      Reply

  2. November 12, 2013 @ 5:12 pm Muza-chan

    Scary :)

    Reply

    • November 12, 2013 @ 6:17 pm admin

      Definitely not somewhere you’d want to spend the night!

      Reply

  3. November 13, 2013 @ 7:42 pm Mike

    The collection of bones and skulls is amazing in and of itself, Shing! But, to arrange and place them in such perfect synchronicity is absolutely mind-boggling! Very fun (albeit spooky) post to read :)

    Reply

    • November 14, 2013 @ 10:04 am admin

      It really is a vision to behold Mike! The intricate design is probably what makes the crypt appear most bizarre because it’s beautifully macabre.

      Reply

  4. November 25, 2013 @ 6:53 am Mary {The World Is A Book}

    I’m so glad you bent the rules and took pictures :) I know what you mean by calling it “pretty”. I felt the same way at Sedlec Ossuary. This one seems a bit more creepy with the skeleton monks. Such great arrangements too.

    Reply

    • November 25, 2013 @ 10:05 pm admin

      The arrangements were really startling! This place is for anyone with a fascination towards the morbid and macabre isn’t it Mary? And clearly you’re one of them 😉

      I hope to make it to Sedlec Ossuary in the near future, I think it’s quite a lot larger than Capuchin Crypt.

      Reply

  5. June 28, 2014 @ 3:25 pm Rome’s Best Offbeat and Unconventional Sights | An Unofficial Guide to Surviving Rome

    […] curious and macabre Capuchin Crypt is a gruesome display of artistry, with some 4,000 friars‘ bones decorating the space. Bones are nailed to the walls, posing in their habits, and […]

    Reply

  6. July 11, 2014 @ 3:52 pm Hermione

    I thought I was the only one who thought this place was beautiful
    It didn’t scare me but it was a little chilling and I felt like a sick person when I thought “wow, this is pretty” but it honestly was

    Reply

    • July 12, 2014 @ 1:00 pm admin

      Haha, I have to admit, when I felt myself smiling an image of Ed Gein popped into my mind! :s

      Reply

  7. October 28, 2014 @ 8:58 pm Five Ways to Celebrate Halloween in Rome | An Unofficial Guide to Rome

    […] a bit more macabre, check out the gruesome display of artistry which is the Capuchin Crypt. Some 4,000 friars‘ bones decorate the space, nailed to the walls, posing in their habits, and composing lamps, […]

    Reply

  8. August 14, 2015 @ 2:32 pm Jem

    I don’t find this place scary at all – it was one of the most fascinating places to visit when I was in Rome in May (I did a joint excursion with the catacombs and San Clemente). For the people whose bones are displayed, which includes two Barberini princesses who died in childhood, it was an honour to be displayed like this. As the sign says:

    WHAT YOU ARE NOW WE USED TO BE; WHAT WE ARE NOW YOU WILL BE.

    Which is true!

    I think Western society has a real problem dealing with death, which is the natural end of life and nothing to be scared of. Skeletons may well be superficially scary BUT when one looks at these displays as a statement of respect for the dead, and one packed with meaning, then this is a form of art and devotion – and one with a message – i.e. that life is fleeting so make the most of it.

    This has nothing to do with Hallowe’en, and nor should it (though worth pointing out that Hallowe’en comes from an ancient British festival at least 5000 years old which the Church appropriated (like Christmas then).

    If I return to Rome, I shall definitely pay another visit.

    Reply

    • August 7, 2016 @ 8:25 pm Judy

      I agree. We went to the Ossuary when we went to Rome on a Pilgrimage. It was strangely beautiful, and, gave us a lot to think about.

      Reply

  9. October 19, 2015 @ 12:19 pm Guest Post: 10 Little Known Attractions in Rome | MissAdventure

    […] under a church on one of Rome’s most prestigious streets, the Via Veneto, you’ll find this collection of tiny crypts. Unlike the many other tombs to be found in the city, this one has been constructed entirely with […]

    Reply

  10. February 3, 2016 @ 1:30 am Edie

    I have seen something similar in Portugal. It was in a small chapel built next to a church. Initially it was a cemetery and the church wanted to expand so they dug up and saved the bones, expanded the church, built the chapel and decorated the interior with the bones. It was their way of honoring the dead.

    Reply

  11. October 30, 2016 @ 12:03 pm Rob

    “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.” I love this ‘memento mori’ – reminds me of the returning Roman emperors when they came back for their triumphs, they aways had a slave in the back of the chariot whispering in their ears – ‘remember you are mortal and you will one day die!’…..I’ve been to this crypt too, but was shepherded quite closely by a security guard and I couldn’t sneak photos. Wonderfully creepy though!

    Reply


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