Rome's Capuchin Crypt

Rome is a stunning city with a vast array of unique attractions for visitors to enjoy. So many, in fact, that it is difficult to squeeze them all into a short break. Every tourist will inevitably head for the Coliseum, the Forum and the Vatican City. Many will even manage to do a little shopping and as they explore the delights of the Via Veneto they probably don’t realise that one of Rome’s most unusual sights is just around the corner.

 The Crypt

The Capuchin Crypt is situated beneath the church of Santa Maria Della Immacolata Concezione dei Cappuccini near Piazza Barberini. Most people, even the locals, do not appear to realise that it is there.  As you first enter the church there doesn’t appear to be anything particularly unusual about the place until you descend into the crypt below to be greeted by a rather incredible sight. Here you will discover the resting place of over 4000 Capuchin monks but rather than being buried, their bones are arranged on the walls and all around the chapels of the crypt forming intricate decorative designs. 


The church was originally constructed by the Capuchin Cardinal Antonio Barberini in the 17th century. When the monks first arrived they brought with them the bones of over 300 friars to be buried in the crypt. As the soil there had been brought to Italy from the holy land of Israel many other monks then wished to make the crypt their last resting place and the Capuchins soon ran out of room. They then started the practice of exhuming bodies to harvest the bones, burying the new bodies in the vacated space.


You may feel that the sight of thousands of bones arranged neatly into decorative features would be somewhat sinister and macabre but somehow it isn’t. The place is suitably reverential but there is something slightly whimsical about the whole display which does include several entire skeletons dressed in monk’s robes and some bone chandeliers. There is also a though provoking message displayed which reads: "What you are, we once were. What we are, you someday will be." In one of the six chapels there is even an arrangement which appears to be the Grim Reaper and so these monks definitely had a sense of humour!


If you are a coffee drinker you may be interested to know that the term Cappuchino was originally given to a particular variety milky of coffee because its colour resembled the shade of the robes worn by Capuchin monks. I had always wondered where that name came from!

Via Veneto

If you ever find yourself wandering down the Via Veneto looking for that Versace shirt or Tissot Watch to take home with you, take a little time out from shopping to visit the Capuchin Crypt. It is such a unique sight that it really should not be missed. Entrance is free but the church does ask for a voluntary donation.