We have all heard of Rome’s main attractions: the Sistine Chapel, the Spanish Steps, St. Peter’s Cathedral. But have you ever heard of the Museum and Crypt of the Capuchin Friers?
This is a fascinating, if somewhat creepy, chapel underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Capucchini. For 8.50 euros you can take a tour.
Here, for several hundred years, the Franciscan friars, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the bones of their dead colleagues would make a great reminder of our mortality. And so, with likely nothing better to do, they started to use their bones to decorate. Yes, to decorate. Over the years, they used some 4,000 dead bodies. That’s a lot of bones: shin bones, finger bones, everything…
They even gave names to the different rooms they decorated and in which they displayed their morbid exhibits: the crypt of skulls, the crypt of legbones, and (my favorite) the crypt of pelvises. The displays in each room are… well, bare bones.
The dimly lit rooms have chandeliers made from human bones. Mummified arms hold the Coat of Arms (no pun intended). Apparently by the early 1900’s they were told to stop their lurid practise.
The crypt’s website warns ‘don’t go if you’re queasy about such things as furniture made of human bones’. It also states that after the tour of the crypt, you will enter the Gift Shop. I’m afraid to ask what’s for sale there…
These Capuchin friars are the same guys for which your favourite drink is named: reminiscent of their brown habit with pointed hood, or cappa, the word ‘cappuccino’ allegedly alludes to the colour and ‘peaked finish’ of coffee. So, as you sip your next cappuccino at Starbuck, you may contemplate these cheerful guys’ motto, as displayed on a plague on the wall in this creepy crypt: “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”
(And just in case you wonder, no I have not actually visited even though it is almost Halloween.)