A child-size Grim Reaper.




he day our plane landed in Roma, we rushed to the Capuchin Crypt beneath the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception (1645), located on Via Veneto, near Barbarini Square. We arrived one half hour after the crypt had closed, but following on the heels of a forceful Italian woman and her party, managed to gain admittance. We were so enamoured of the place that we returned on our last day in Roma to see it again. Entrance is by donation, the door manned by a Capuchin monk. The bones in this crypt were nailed to the wall and arranged in patterns: cross, floral, arch, triangle and circle, as well as forming objects. A large clock is composed of vertebrae, foot bones and finger bones. The single hour hand represents the idea that time has no beginning or end.




he bones in the six-room crypt represent over 4,000 individual monks. It is said monks fled the French Revolution (1793-94) and took refuge at the Church in Roma. There are many theories about the arrangment of the bones, but most stories end with the notion that the anonymous artist reaped his heavenly reward. One tale says that a French Capuchins did the work, no doubt mimicing the catacombs of Paris. The Marquis de Sade visited the crypt in 1775 and described it as "An example of funerary art worthy of an English mind", created "by a German priest who lived in this house."

Hugues at the entrance to the Capuchin Crypt.

A view of the entrance room from the interior of the crypt.
Iron gates on the right lead to the six rooms.
The vaulted ceiling of the 60' hallway.
One of several lampshades
composed mainly of vertebrae and sacral bones.


A standing Capuchin monk skeleton
surrounded by patterns made with bones.
Many of the monk skeletons are supine
in individual niches.


he Capuchins separated from the Franciscans in 1525 in order to get back to a more fundamental interpretation of St. Francis' edict to help the poor and the helpless. The bearded Capuchins wear sandals with no socks, and a tunic with a rope belt, and a hood. It is the hood, the capuce, from which the name of the order derives. Cappucino coffee is named after the color of their robes. This is without a doubt one of the most macabre religious orders in the Catholic Church.


A monk surrounded by skulls.
Comparing our photographs with those from the early1900s shows
that the crypt has altered little in the last 100 years.
An altar surrounded by bones. The crypt
also contains the heart of Capuchin devotee
Maria Felice Peretti (1656),
the earliest date in the crypt.

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