Thursday, December 10, 2009

The dark side of Rome

Yesterday a couple of my friends and I visited a place that we've heard a lot about this semester -- the crypt of Santa Maria della Concezione, a church located right near Piazza Barberini.

Many people have told me about this crypt, and they each said that it's a must-visit before I leave Rome. Yesterday my friends and I all had a free afternoon, so we headed over there to check it out. After a 1 Euro donation fee, we were allowed inside, but with strict instructions to not take pictures or videos (out of respect for the dead.)

The crypt is located underneath Santa Maria della Concezione church, which was commissioned in 1626 by Pope Urban VIII. The pope's brother, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who was a Capuchin monk, ordered the remains of 4,000 Capuchin friars to be exhumed and transferred to the crypt. The bones were then arranged along the walls in intricate patterns, and each night the Capuchins would visit the remains to pray and reflect. Each of the friars whose remains are in the crypt were buried between 1500-1870.

The crypt itself is divided into five different rooms, each with dim lighting (the lighting fixtures are made out of bones, no less) and each room has quiet music playing. The bones are everywhere, and they are arranged very intricately -- you can tell that the displays were done very carefully and with great care. Some of the skeletons remain whole and are draped with Franciscan habits, but for the most part the individual bones are used to create designs on the walls. In each room, the main display of remains is set back and there is dirt separating it from the entranceway. In the dirt, old roses and flower petals are visible, which adds to the eeriness of whole crypt.

In the last room, a plaque is displayed in the center which reads:

"Quello che voi siete noi eravamo. Quello che noi siamo voi sarete."
("What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you will be.")

Creepy, huh? It was unreal think that all of the bones that were surrounding me were actually from real people...and so many of them! It was really interesting and impressive to see the patterns that the remains were displayed in (it was almost like artwork) but it was unnerving in a way. Even though I wasn't allowed to take pictures, here are some I found online:

Note the full child's skeleton in the middle of the ceiling:

One of the light fixtures, made out of bones:

Here you can see the dirt on the ground. It was in the dirt that old, dried up flowers were scattered:

While it was definitely a creepy place to visit, I'm glad I went -- it's one of those places that's not talked about a lot and that I feel like many people don't know about, but it's definitely worth a trip!

Images from here


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