The Capuchin Crypt started accumulating bones during the mid-17th century and continued until shortly after the Unification of Italy in the 1860s, when they were banned from continuing. During this time the monks of the Crypt managed to acquire between three and four thousand skeletons, some of them from deceased Capuchin monks of the attached monastery, but most from those too poor to afford decent graves, many of them children. Friars of the Capuchin monastery would travel around Rome and its surrounding environs to requisition such remains for the greater glory of God, or so they saw it. The Capuchins insist the display focuses the mind on the brevity of this life and the permanence of the life thereafter. The display is extreme in its nature; it has one entire room of pelvises arranged around skeletons and that is not in fact the most disturbing room. Perhaps my upbringing was too Protestant to appreciate the nuances of Catholic teachings concerning death, but I found the experience unsettling. No matter how open-minded I try to be, I feel it’s disrespectful, perhaps even idolatrous, to take such liberties with the remains of the dead. Nevertheless, there is something oddly alluring about the contortions of these bones. I couldn’t help but compare the Capuchin Crypt to Crossbones Graveyard in London, where a ragtag group of misfits try to bring life to a place of death. I prefer the approach they took to the Capuchins. The Crypt is both beautiful and horrifying; I’d like to know what others think.

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