The Eternal City is abundant with ancient artifacts, contemporary charm and everything in between. The diverse range of cultural experiences from historical ruins to art and architecture through the Middle Ages to contemporary attractions and modern museums make Rome an appealing destination to a wide variety of tourist types. We could not fathom a visit here without walking the well-worn footpath of the Forum, or gazing upon the Colosseum or strolling the piazzas and taking in the city after dark with its most impressive assets aglow.
Rome is a city to behold, breathe in and admire. While most of its charms are well known, it does still hold some secrets – lesser known gems worth seeing. Imagine a corridor covered in artwork, but unlike the frescoes decorating the rest of Rome, this art is not made with paint and brush, but with bones. Thousands upon thousands of human bones.
Imagine a corridor covered in artwork, but unlike the frescoes decorating the rest of Rome, this art is not made with paint and brush, but with bones. Thousands upon thousands of human bones.
The Capuchin Crypt, or Rome’s so-called Bone Church, contains the remains of 4,000 Capuchin monks, their bones artfully displayed in small chapels along a corridor beneath a nondescript church built in the 17th century. Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini is located on a busy avenue best known for high-end restaurants, shopping and fancy hotels. Most people walk past the church without a second glance. But if you walk inside, it is a sight you won’t soon forget. The unusual artwork is profound.
Five small chapels within the Crypt are packed with soil from Jerusalem. To accommodate all of the monks who wanted burial in the sacred soil, the religious order had to get crafty. After their bodies decomposed in the ground for a few decades, they were exhumed to make room for other burials and their bones became a palette for the artists. The monks’ handiwork, which began in the mid-17th century continued through 1870 and what remains today leaves a lasting impression.
Skulls are stacked high along the walls, furniture is made from femurs, fingers bones contribute to delicate and curious chandeliers. Everywhere you look there are mosaics of Baroque style bone artistry arranged in unforgettable displays throughout the crypt. As if to remind visitors that the art is, in fact, bones, several cloaked and mummified monks appear to be praying, or laying in their death beds.
“What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be,” reads a plague translated in several languages.
In one chapel, the skeleton of a child is suspended to the ceiling, representing the angle of death carrying a sickle and scales made of bones.
The crypt is haunting and strange, but it isn’t intended to be macabre but rather celebrate the beauty of death. You can’t help but reflect on life – the brevity of it – when surrounded by the artful display of so many people who have passed.
This cultural experience is impressive and unique, but don’t expect to capture it on film or phone. Photographs are prohibited. We managed to snap just a couple images before realizing it was forbidden. The crypt’s attendants will quickly scold anyone they see snapping photos.
You won’t find the Church of Bones in most travel guides nor likely on the itinerary of organized tourism trips to Rome. Thousands of people walk past this incredible place, along a busy avenue, every day and have no idea what lies just beneath the surface.
If you plan a trip to Rome, by all means see the Sistine chapel, the Spanish Steps and all the other glorious cultural attractions that aren’t to be missed; then step off that well-worn path and into the Bone Church for an extraordinary experience that is rare and memorable.