The Capuchin Crypt in Rome

With today being Halloween, or in other words, the vigil of All Saints Day, what better time to soak in a little memento mori as our minds turn toward All Saints and All Souls. In the past we've shown many a 'bone chapel' (or ossuary) but today we are going to look at the famous crypt (or catacomb) of the Capuchin Franciscans in Rome.

The crypt is located in the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. It is a sequence of relatively small rooms adjacent to one another, each room being decorated in various ways by the bones of the Capuchins in various patterns, but perhaps most striking of all are the fully intact remains which are still clothed in the distinctive brown Capuchin habit.

Of course, part of the reason for this practice was practical. The friars took over this church in the early 17th century and brought the remains of their departed brothers with them. It was at this time that the bones were first arranged and what's more, soil was even brought from the Holy Land -- Jerusalem specifically -- to furnish the crypt under the direction of Pope Urban VIII. 

This practice not only served as a powerful reminder of one's own mortality, it also had a practical dimension for, due to the obvious space limitations of the city, only so much real estate was available to bury the recently deceased friars and so the cycle was such that whomever had been the longest buried in the earth, usually at least 30 years, would have his bones exhumed from the raw earth (no coffins were used) with the newly deceased taking his place. The bones of the recently exhumed would then be added to the display in the crypt.

Five such niches exist in this crypt and the sixth is where the crypt altar can be found where Mass may be offered for the deceased. Each portion of the crypt has a kind of theme with one room being primarily furnished by skulls, another by other types of bones and so on. One room reminds the viewer that he or she will too one day face death, while another room reminds them of the Resurrection of the dead. 

It was only in the mid nineteenth century that this crypt was opened to the public, and only for the week of All Souls Day. Nowadays one can fortunately go see the crypt most anytime and it is well worth a visit.

The crypt has been famous for some time, described by authors such as Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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