The Capuchin Crypt: Human Bones As Far As the Eye Can See

Posted by By Limoge at 8 September, at 10 : 32 AM Print


Imagine you’re in a room filled with thousand year-old human bones from floor to ceiling, everywhere you turn.  Sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel or a horrible nightmare, doesn’t it?  Well, actually a place like this does exist (and I was there).  Located in Rome, Italy, beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccin, lies the Crypt of the Capuchin Monks.

The crypt started back in 1631, when the Capuchin monks (who got their name from the hood attached to their cloaks, “capuce”) brought with them the bones of their deceased brethren after their original church was destroyed by the flooding of the Tiber river. They arranged these bones in their new crypt, first lining them up against the walls, but eventually getting much more elaborate.

Over the next 240 years, until 1870, the friars would become experts at, shall we say, “interior design.” Bones, such as skulls, leg bones, pelvises and such, were separated and employed to make elaborate columns, arches, and floral designs with great flourishes. Actually, if you squint your eyes, you might be able to forget that you’re looking at the deceased.

The crypt is divided into five rooms and contains the skeletal remains of 4,000 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars as well as poor Romans:

Crypt of the Resurrection

One would be hard-pressed to call the decoration in the Crypt of the Resurrection pretty, but it is certainly the least disturbing of the five rooms. On the back wall, different parts of the human skeleton create a frame for the picture of Jesus commanding Lazarus to come out alive from the tomb.

Crypt of the Skulls

One of the more shocking rooms is the Crypt of the Skulls. By counting the skulls in this vault, one can truly appreciate the sheer number of bodies actually housed here.

Most of the skulls are nailed to the back of the room, forming a wall with three connecting arches at the top. In front of this wall of skulls, stand the skeletons of three Capuchin friars, still vested in their habits.

Crypt of the Pelvises

At the rear of the vault, pelvis bones form the backdrop for three cloaked-skeletal Capuchins, Over the backdrop is a canopy of pelvises, from which hangs a fringe of vertebrae.

Pelvises and assorted small bones turn the ceiling into a macabre kaleidoscope of fleurs-de-lis and rosettes.

Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones

The greatest number of bones can be found in the Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones.

The two side walls of this vault are formed from leg and thigh bones piled on top of each other, and then intermixed with skulls. Each side wall contains four niches large enough to occupy the skeleton of a Capuchin friar, standing and vested in his habit.

Crypt of the Three Skeletons

The center skeleton is enclosed in an oval, the symbol of life coming to birth. In its right hand it holds a scythe, symbol of death which cuts down everyone, like grass in a field, while its left hand holds the scales, symbolizing the good and evil deeds weighed by God when he judges the human soul.

A placard in five languages declares:

What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…

Very prophetic words, indeed…

Featured Offbeat

Related Posts

Awesome Links From Around The Web

13 Comments

  1. Matt, 3 years ago Reply

    I’ve actually been there, very eerie place to be. However, it’s also prohibited to take photos in that place… at all, out of respect for the dead. So nice job there mate.

    • Marcie Ellis, 3 years ago Reply

      Extremely strange, is that a pentagram in the middle design of the crypt of the thigh & leg bones? Freaky.

  2. Angelo, 3 years ago Reply

    I’ve also been here and am surprised that they let these photos get taken. They have a strict ‘no photo, no video’ rule. Though I did sneak a pic of the Crypt of Skulls and got reprimanded for it!

  3. Nila, 3 years ago Reply

    Eerie as this place is, wow what an incredible monument and honor to the monks who lived and died there. It is amazing that it is still in tact for all the time that has past.

  4. Louis, 3 years ago Reply

    “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be”.

    Not exactly. After I go, I’m having any usable parts donated to science, and whatever’s left is gonna go up the chimney. I’m not going to hang around as a decoration on some stupid wall, that’s for sure. Those monks just have way too much time on their hands.

  5. Scariest Places on Planet Earth | It Thing!, 3 years ago Reply

    [...] Catacombs is an infamous underground cemetery with a series of tunnels and pathways created out of human bones. It was developed in the 18th century out of necessity as the city grew in size and currently [...]

  6. Ashna and Mann's Blog! - READY FOR NIGHTMARES????, 2 years ago Reply

    [...] Catacombs is an infamous underground cemetery with a series of tunnels and pathways created out of human bones. It was developed in the 18th century out of necessity as the city grew in size and currently [...]

  7. Eurotrip 2012 « Catherine Liebenberg-Loubser, 1 year ago Reply

    [...] photo by Deon Joubert. Capuchin Crypt photos: image 1, image 2, image 3 All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012. Share this:Like this:LikeBe the [...]

  8. The Grave of Mona Lisa: Discovered?, 1 year ago Reply

    [...] Israel, and persists in eastern cultures. Indeed, you don’t need to look very far to see the exposure of human remains in Catholic culture. Exhumation and display of remains is part of the process of declaring saints.So [...]

  9. The Grave of Mona Lisa: Discovered? « Fr Stephen Smuts, 1 year ago Reply

    [...] ancient Israel, and persists in eastern cultures. Indeed, you don’t need to look very far to see the exposure of human remains in Catholic culture. Exhumation and display of remains is part of the process of declaring [...]

  10. Free Things to Do in Rome, 1 year ago Reply

    [...] free and freaky, stop by the Santa Maria della Concezione, a monastery, where you’ll find the Crypt of Cappuchin Friars. What’s this you ask? Well since 1631 the bones of 4,000 monks have been used to decorate the [...]

  11. Rome, Day 1: Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Capuchin Crypt, Spanish Steps | Expeditions in Eastern Europe, 1 year ago Reply

    [...] We took a quick stop for gelato in order to hold off for a late dinner.  If you’ve never eaten gelato, please eat some the next time you get a chance.  It’s creamier than ice cream and gives a richer flavor.  Heavenly is the best word I have to describe it.  We then went to an off-the-beaten-path place: the Capuchin Crypt.  Yes, it’s just as morbid as it sounds.  Here, underneath an existing church, the bones of over 4,000 monks have been delicately arranged to form beautiful art.  It’s meant to be a reminder of the brevity of life and was a moving experience.  Skulls, pelvic bones, femurs, and the other 203 bones in the body are stacked in piles or arches, arranged as entire skeletons dressed in monk robes, or crafted into light fixtures.  Pictures weren’t allowed inside, but you can see some here. [...]

  12. Steve, 1 year ago Reply

    This really helped me out with a project that I had to do. Thank you.


Post Your Comment

About itThing

itThing.com is run by a small group of people who cover things that are considered the “it thing” of the moment. Basically, if it’s something that is talked about by others, you’ll most likely find it here. From articles that dive into everything there is to learn about a particular subject to funny videos and pictures, you’ll find it all here. Oh and did we mention we regularly compile informational infographics that float around on the web. All in all, ithing.com is a platform where fun and information are merged together!