As an artist and a historian, I have always had a great desire to visit Rome, Italy. It is a Mecca for historians and artist alike. There is so much to do and see there, one would need a month to take it all in, but my husband and I had five days. Even though we wanted to visit the famous Roman Catacombs which lay outside the city, it was impossible to work it into our schedule. However, we had a solution to this problem, before we left for Rome our daughter said “Be sure you go to the Bone Church while you’re there.”
The name, “Bone Church,” conjured up a lot of things in my mind. Granted, I already had a good idea of what we were in store for but the actuality of the visit was truly macabre and fascinating at the same time.
Far from the crowds of Vatican City and Ancient Rome’s Coliseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum and the
museums, is the Church of Santa Maria della Immacolata Concezione or better known as, “The Bone Church.” Located underneath the church there are six small rooms where more than 4,000 monks are buried. The remains of these monks, all of whom died between 1528-1870, have been sculpted into a gruesome monumental work of art with the skulls and bones being used for alters, chandeliers and ornamental wall designs.
When the Capuchin Monks arrived in 1631, they brought with them 300 cart loads of deceased friars and buried them under the church. Even the soil was brought in from Jerusalem. As more monks died, room had to be made for their bones and that’s where the Capuchins got creative, digging up the old bones and adorning them on the walls and ceiling in the crypt.
Over the next 240 years, the Capuchin Friars became artistic experts in interior design as they separated skulls, leg bones, pelvises and such, creating intricately elaborate columns, arches and floral designs in the crypt.
It is an incredible sight as you walk from room to room; there is the Crypt of the Skulls, Crypt of the Pelvises, Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones and so on.
A bit of irony here, at the front desk Mother Theresa told us, “Do not take any photography, it is not allowed!” That being said, I looked around the entry room and noticed post cards for sale which could be bought for $7.50 each. That did it for me…game on Mother Theresa.We did manage to snap one picture, Mother Theresa noticed the camera flash coming from the crypt and came storming down the hall yelling as she went. Fortunately for us, she took her wrath out on a young couple who denied having done such an awful thing. We also looked horrified at the idea and passed questioning altogether by Mother Theresa and we were able to smuggle out our one photo of the crypt.
No bones about it, in a dark artsy sort of way, Rome’s Capuchin Crypt is an incredible and intense substitute for the catacombs of Rome.