Tuesday, April 6, 2010
It happened by accident and had I known what I was getting myself into, I probably would never have gone inside.
One of my favorite things to do when I'm in Rome, Italy is wander the streets which is how I ended up in Piazza Barberini beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concenzione.
The old priest who greeted me was beaming from ear to ear. He explained, in Italian, that I was in the Capuchin Crypt. Call it gruesome or barbaric or whatever you'd like. This was the final resting place of more than 4,000 Capuchin Friars who died between 1528 and 1870 with a few poverty-stricken Romans thrown in.
I was told the soil in the crypt was brought to Rome from Jerusalem which made it a highly desirable place to be "displayed." There was the Crypt of the Resurrection, the Crypt of Pelvises, the Crypt of Skulls, and more spread throughout six rooms.
Some of the bones were made into chandeliers; others were fully clothed skeletons. There is even the heart of Pope Sixtus V's great niece.
It was a "self-guided" tour but the old priest was there to answer any question. If you're claustrophic, then the tiny place is not for you especially since it's packed with bones from floor to ceiling.
There were no saints buried there. Still, I think it's worthy of mention because of the sacred remains and the artwork showing St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua.
Perhaps the spookiest part of my experience in the Caphucin Crypt happened as I was leaving.
"Would you like me to recommend a place for dinner," asked the smiling priest.
"I think I'll pass tonight," I said as I walked outside into the Eternal City twilight.