The Ossuary Church of Santa Maria dell'Orazione e Morte in Rome

With all of the interest one generally finds in the use of memento mori in churches and liturgical art, it's rather surprising that this church in Rome doesn't get a little more attention -- though at the same time, it is understandable given the plethora of churches in the Eternal City.  Today, we take a look at the church of Santa Maria dell'Orazione e Morte (St. Mary of Prayer and Death). 

The church was first constructed in 1538 (being rebuilt in 1734) for the Confraternita dell'Orazione e Morte (Confraternity of Prayer and Death) which was formerly known simply as the "Company of the Dead." That company's origin and charitable purpose in Rome was to find and bury the dead who had been abandoned by the poor (who could not afford to arrange a proper burial) on the outskirts of the city. In 1538,  Pope Julius II would transform this company into the aforementioned confraternity and he tasked them with not only continuing to find and bury the dead, but also arranging their requiems and praying for the holy souls. To help fulfill its pious purpose, the church originally had an associated graveyard wherein the corpses would be buried and allowed to decompose before finally being translated into the ossuary crypt -- thus making room for new occupants to take their place in the graveyard.

Turning to the building itself, all of this connection might well go unnoticed at a quick glance, as the church appears as a fairly typical of so many others in Rome:

However, if one takes a closer look at the particular details of the church one will notice the numerous memento mori symbols -- reminders of our own mortality -- that grace the church, beginning with the main door itself which is topped by the winged hourglass and framed by two skulls which are surrounded with acanthus leaves and wearing laurels of victory:

This theme is continued on the interior where one can find around the dome symbols of the instruments of the Passion, the winged, "tempus fugit" hourglass, and crowned skulls. 

Also found in the church are two marble alms boxes, the first showing a winged skeleton with the Latin words, Hodie mihi, cras tibi, meaning “Today for me, tomorrow for you” (i.e. death):

The other shows yet another winged skeleton, holding the winged-hour glass over the mortal remains of a deceased man:

Located below the church is the ossuary crypt in which one can find chandeliers, crosses and the like made of bones.

The crypt altar, now covered in bones (one will note the scythe on the right):

One can even find a holy water stoup here whose associated design is a skeleton that holds up its hand, as if to remind us to bless ourselves with  holy water and make your prayers.

Certainly worth a visit -- so long as you find it open.

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