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Recalling a visit to the Strange Capuchin Cemetery in Rome

October 14, 2009 by  

cemetery_of_capuchinsWith Halloween approaching, I thought I’d blog about a few of the eeriest places I’ve visited over the years. Without a doubt, the Capuchin Cemetery in Rome, Italy, takes the dubious honor.

You’ll find the cemetery, actually a crypt beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini (Immaculate Conception), on the Via Veneto near Palazzo Barbareni. The ghastly chamber reeks with decay and is divided into five tiny chapels linked via a dim passageway. The place is so weird, even Dan Browne skipped a mention in his book, Angels and Demons.

Within lies the final resting place for over 4,000 Capuchin friars who died between 1528 and 1870. Some were first buried elsewhere and then transferred here. The soil in the crypt was brought from Jerusalem. A few dozen skeletons remain intact, draped in hooded Franciscan habits. Large numbers of bones adorn the walls in complex decorative patterns; some resemble bas-reliefs, others hang from the ceiling as working light fixtures. One chapel overflows with countless leg bones and skulls.

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The first room, known as the Crypt of the Resurrection, features a picture of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, framed by parts of a human skeleton. Visitors are encouraged to interpret the displays of funereal art as the Christian belief in resurrection and everlasting life.

A plaque in one of the chapels reads, in three languages, “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”

I honestly can’t describe the macabre, grotesque effect, albeit with a certain artistic merit. The unearthed skeletal array makes this sacred shrine more a ghoulish tourist attraction. One needs only a few minutes to see the place, if at all.

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One Response to “Recalling a visit to the Strange Capuchin Cemetery in Rome”

  1. A Bone Chapel in Peaceful Hallstatt, Austria | ByLanderSea Travel Tales on March 9th, 2011 3:49 pm

    […] gold altarpiece and cemetery with an eerie bone chapel. Compared to the Capuchin Cemetery in Rome (see my previous blog), the Hallstatt bone chapel is more a one room schoolhouse. Called a Beinhaus or charnel house, it […]

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