The Bone Church

Rome isn’t much good for kids. It’s better than it used to be, with a decent zoo and museums like this and this, but it still abounds in ‘do not touch’ zones. However, if you’ve got pre-teenage boys, there is a site you can visit that they will love more than any place they’ve ever been in their entire lives.

Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini is your average Catholic church, built by Pope Urban XII in 1626.

The Bone Church

What is a little less than average are the crypts underneath. The pope’s brother was a Capuchin friar. The Capuchin order was founded by a guy who thought that monkery had strayed too far from the ideals of Saint Francis of Assisi and felt that a bit more solitude, penance and helping out the poor was in order. The color of their outfits, which feature a hoodie, gave rise to the name for cappucino, which if you are in Italy you must not drink after noon or else all Italians will laugh at you. Brother Cesare Bonizzi, the heavy metal singer, was a Capuchin friar as was Rome’s favorite stigmatic, Padre Pio. When the Capuchins moved to the Bone Church in 1631, they brought 300 cartloads of their deceased friar brethren with them. When they ran out of burial space in the tiny crypts below the church (which were very desirable final resting places because they had floors made from soil from Israel), they put the leftover skeletons on display as a reminder of the temporary nature of human existence. (A placard in one of the chapels reads: “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…”). Instead of piling up the bodies or standing them up against the wall, the Capuchins used bits and pieces of the former friars and other assorted dead people who wanted to be buried on holy soil to decorate five chapels under the church. As a result, the chapels feature artworks featuring the remains of 4 000 people who died between 1528 and 1870. The displays, according to Wikipedia, are in the ‘Baroque and Rococo style.” Not being particularly well versed in art history I couldn’t say but I do like the bone picture frames and the chandeliers made from pelvises.

The Chapel of the Skulls (duh).

It's a bit Baroque for my taste.

The Marquis de Sade was a big fan of this place and wrote about it. And Mark Twain wrote this in The Innocents Abroad: 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.

Creepy. Your kids will love it.

Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, Via Veneto, Rome
Open 9-12 and 3-6, closed Thursdays.

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