The Capuchin Crypt

The Cimitero Monumentale dei Frati Cappuccini—better known simply as the Capuchin Crypt—is one of the eeriest sites in Rome: a series of chapels mosaicked with the bones of long-dead monks

Il Convento dei Frati Minori Cappuccini di Via Veneto a Roma (Capuchin Crypt)
Via Veneto 27
tel. +39-06-8880-3695 or +39-06-488-3138
Fri-Wed 9am–7pm

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The bone mosaics of Rome's Capuchin Crypt
The bone mosaics of Rome's Capuchin Crypt
Depending how you look at it, the cappuccini are monks with a death wish—or a healthy attitude toward their own mortality.

They're a weird lot, very polite but with a penchant for making mosaics out of the bones of their deceased brethren.

That's what happened in the crypt of this church—the entrance is halfway up the staircase to the front doors of the (otherwise uninteresting) Santa Maria Immacolata Concezione—where five chambers were filled between 1528 and 1870 with mosaics made from over 4,000 dearly departed cappuccini (first dried out by temporary burial in the floors filled with dirt from Jerusalem).

Which came first, cappuccino or the Cappuccini?
The popular coffee drink made with espresso, steamed milk, and a dollop of foam was named after the monastic order of Capuchins since the coffee's dun color matched that of the monk's robes. Given that, the Cappuccini's Rome church couldn't be in a better location: on the Via Veneto, famously lined with cafes eager to serve you their namesake drink.

These fantastic displays form morbid patterns and baroque decorative details, from rings of knucklebones and garlands of pelvises to walls made from stacked skulls and scapulae used to create butterflies or hourglasses in an all-too fitting memento mori motif.

A few bodies lean against the walls in varying states of advanced desiccated decay, and the full skeletons of two Barberini princelings adorn the last chamber, near a placard that drives home the ashes-to-ashes point, in several languages, "What you are, we used to be. What we are, you will become."


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This article was written by Reid Bramblett and was last updated in April 2013. All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 2008–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett