It’s one of the most impressive place in Rome: it’s not so well-known and not so listed in paper travel guides, but it must be seen indeed.
I’m talking about the Capuchins’ Crypt (Church of the Immaculate, via Veneto 27), the “coemeterium” underneath the church where the friars have been buried until 1870.
Once it was the place where Capuchins retired to pray and reflect every evening, now it is a work of art.
A very special work of art, I need to clarify, because the rooms, the walls and the ceilings are decorated with human bones – only human bones, nothing else! – that belonged to about 4.000 bodies.
The coemeterium is divided into six rooms connected by a corridor, each room has its particularities.
Crypt of the Resurrection: it features a picture of Jesus commanding Lazarus to come out from the tomb framed by various kind of skeleton bones.
Mass Chapel: it’s the only one free of bones because it’s used for the Mass celebration.
Crypt of skulls (maybe the most intimidating): there are five dressed capuchins, three of them upright in niches on the rear wall and two lying in curved niches on the side walls. In the tympanum on the rear wall there is an hourglass with wings of shoulder blades remembering that time flies away.
Crypt of pelvises: also in this room there are five dressed capuchins, three upright in niches on the rear wall (all leaning forward) and two lying in curved niches on the side walls.
Crypt of the shin bones and thigh bones: there are eight dressed capuchins on the side walls and 18 wooden crosses on the ground (marking graves). On the rear wall there is the Franciscan coat of arms – Christ’s bare arm crossing St. Francis’ dressed arm – underneath a cross enclosed in a circle.
Crypt of the three skeletons: on the rear wall there are two small skeletons holding a winged skull in the hand. On the ceiling there is smaller skeleton holding a scythe in its right hand and a balance in its left hand. According to the tradition the three skeletons belong to members of Barberini family. A placard declares “What you are now, we used to be. What we are now, you will be”
All the vaults of the rooms and of the corridors are finely decorated with circles of flowers, crosses bearing Christ’s passion instruments, eight-pointed stars, five-pointed stars, lanterns and chandeliers arranged with any type of bones: from skulls to jawbones.
The Capuchins’ Crypt is opened every day 9.00-12.00 noon and 3.00-6.00 pm; it is closed on thursday.