Travel Between The Pages: May 07, 2014

On my final morning I called at the Capuchin monks’ mausoleum in the church of Santa Maria della Concezione on the busy Piazza Barberini. This I cannot recommend highly enough. In the sixteenth century some monk had the inspired idea of taking the bones of his fellow monks when they died and using them to decorate the palace. Is that rich enough for you? Half a dozen gloomy chambers along one side of the church were filled with such attractions such as an altar made of rib cages, shrines meticulously concocted from skulls and leg bones, ceilings trimmed with forearms, wall rosettes fashioned from vertebrae, chandeliers made from the bones of hand and feet. In the odd corner there stood a complete skeleton of a Capuchin monk dressed like the Grim Reaper in his hooded robe, and ranged along the other wall were signs in six languages with such cheery sentiments as WE WERE LIKE YOU. YOU WILL BE LIKE US, and a long poem engagingly called ‘My Mother Killed Me!!’. These guys must have been a barrel of laughs to be around. You can imagine every time you got the flu some guy coming along with a tape measure and a thoughtful expression.

Four thousand monks contributed to the display between 1528 and 1870 when the practice was stopped for being just too tacky for words. No one knows quite why or by whom the designs were made, but the inescapable impression you are left with is that the Capuchins once harboured in their midst a half-mad monk with time on his hands and a certain passion for tidiness.

Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe

capuchin monks

The crypt of the Capuchin Monks

Photo courtesy here.