If you find yourself wandering around the Via Veneto area you must pay a visit to the Capuchin Crypt and the Church Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. The crypt and the church were established in 1631 due to the Capuchin Order’s close association with the wealthy Barberini family, who built their family Palazzo nearby. In an area of luxury hotels and expensive restaurants resides a strange ossuary that has survived for centuries. The ossuary is inside the crypt that you will find underneath the church. This place is not for the easily spooked! As you walk inside you will be greeted with a sign that reads: “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be”. This cramped, dimly lit and mouldy-smelling spot holds the bones of more than 4000 dead monks. Here, five successive chambers are decorated entirely with human bones and mummified corpses. The bones are arranged in odd decorative designs, such as crosses, coats of arms, crowns and stars around the decayed skeletons of their kinsmen. Rome is famous for its catacombs and other secret burials but this is something completely different! Here the bones are on full display and not laid in their graves. The decoration is not limited to the walls, if you look up you will see that the arrangements of bones are set into the ceiling as well!
Not even the Capuchins know whose idea it was to rearrange the bones in such a way, but one thing is sure, the crypt is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed and it is in a very weird way a touching and beautiful experience. However, the sight of the bookshop at the end of the crypt is a welcome relief for most visitors, as it is time to leave this realm of the dead and return to the world of the living. I would personally recommend this experience to children over the age of ten, younger kids might be scared of the place. But kids over the age of ten love the creepiness of the place!
I would definitely recommend a visit to the church as well; as you walk inside, the first chapel on the right contains Guido Reni’s “St. Michael Trampling the Devil”. This painting caused great scandal after an observer remarked that the face of the devil bore a surprising resemblance to Pope Innocent X, an enemy of Reni’s Barberini patrons. In the Sacristy of the church there is a beautiful painting of Saint Frances painted by Caravaggio.
The church and the crypt are on Via Veneto 27, Rome.
The crypt is open every day from 9 a.m. -7 p.m.
The church is free and open every day from 7 a.m. -1 p.m. / 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
The price for the crypt is €6.