Visiting the Capuchin Crypt in Rome

They call it “the bone chapel.”

Is it a Scandinavian metal band or an actual place? For those of you into avant garde interior design, you’re in luck, because it’s the latter. If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path attractions in Rome, look no further than the Capuchin Crypt.

What is it?

Beneath the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini church in Rome lies a crypt decorated with the remains of 3,700 Capuchin friars. So, in other words, wacky Catholic shit.

I am struggling to understand the bone scythe.

Why should I visit?

Because, idiot, when else are you going to have the chance to visit a series of underground chapels decorated with BONES? What, would you rather look at another stained glass window or baptismal font? Come on.

Not to mention, women weren’t allowed to visit the Capuchin Crypt between 1851 and 1852, the first two years it was open to the public. The suffragists fought for your right to see the bone chapel, so you best be grateful and take advantage.

So, it’s just some bones? That’s it?

No! Before you are allowed to see the bones, you must walk through several rooms of Catholic propaganda. Whether you decide to read the placards in the exhibit on the Capuchin monks is up to you. In order to feel more scholarly and less like a serial killer looking for home decor inspo, I spent a good deal of time in the museum. For maybe half an hour, I knew everything there is to know about the Capuchins. But memory is fleeting, and my brain only makes room for the most important, necessary information (memes, horrifying facts about 1800s medical practices), so I’ve since forgotten everything I learned.

But I did not, dear reader, forget about the bones.

The crypt in 1897. Phoebe Bridgers would have a field day here.

There are six different rooms in the crypt.

And it’s imperative you learn their titles and commit them to memory:

  • Crypt of the Resurrection: this room features an image of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The image, of course, is made of bones.
  • The Mass Chapel: a place to hold Mass. No bones!
  • Crypt of the Skulls: well, okay.
  • Crypt of the Pelvises: kinky.
  • Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones: think KFC, but Catholic.
  • Crypt of the Three Skeletons: the monks chose to exercise a little restraint when decorating this one.

I don’t understand.

Why someone would choose to mount their friends’ bones on the wall? Yeah, me neither. Apparently they’re supposed to remind us of death’s inevitability, that our earthly bodies are transient, et cetera. I personally think graveyards fulfill the same purpose, but to each their own.

Can I take pictures?

Yes! But you will get yelled at by an angry Italian man hired specifically to yell at rule-flouting Americans. Speaking from experience.

Taking this photo for you all was an act of martyrdom.

What does Mark Twain have to say about all this?

Ah, yes, the question I ask myself any time I want a professional opinion on something. Twain recounted his tour of the crypt in his 1869 memoir, The Innocents Abroad. He actually spoke with one of the monks, and had this to say of their encounter:

The reflection that he must someday be taken apart like an engine or a clock…and worked up into arches and pyramids and hideous frescoes, did not distress this monk in the least. I thought he even looked as if he were thinking, with complacent vanity, that his own skull would look well on top of the heap and his own ribs add a charm to the frescoes which possibly they lacked at present.

I have to agree with Twain. There’s something a little vain about wanting a room adorned with your deconstructed skeleton.

And then there’s Marquis de Sade…

The man who served as martyr for kinky people everywhere said, after visiting the crypt in 1775, that he’d never seen anything “more impressive.” That’s pretty much all you need to know.

Not enough skulls for you? Check out Meteora, Greece.

Have you visited the Capuchin Crypt? What’d you think? Did you also get shouted at for taking photos? Tell me in the comments!