The Capuchin Crypt is a small space comprising several tiny chapels located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini in Rome, Italy. It contains the skeletal remains of 4,000 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars buried by their order. The Catholic order insists that the display is not meant to be macabre, but a silent reminder of the swift passage of life on Earth. The bones were arranged along the walls, and the friars began to bury their own dead here, as well as the bodies of poor Romans, whose tomb was under the floor of the present Mass chapel. Here the Capuchins would come to pray and reflect each evening before retiring for the night.
The crypt originated at a period of a rich and creative cult for their dead; great spiritual masters meditated and preached with a skull in hand.
The church is most famous as an ossuary, known as the Capuchin Crypt, in which is displayed the bones of over 4,000 Capuchin friars, collected between the years of 1528 and 1870. The bones are fashioned into decorative displays in the Baroque and Rococo style. The popularity of the crypt as a tourist attraction once rivalled the Catacombs. The Sedlec ossuary (1870) in the Czech Republic is said to have been inspired from it.
Described by Frommer’s as “one of the most horrifying images in all of Christendom”, large numbers of the bones are nailed to the walls in intricate patterns, many are piled high among countless others, while others hang from the ceiling as light fixtures.