Rome, Italy

Sta. Maria della Concezione, Rome, Italy

Standing at the bottom end of one of Rome's most prestigious roads, the via Veneto, the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione appears unremarkable from the outside. In 1626 the Church was built for Antonio Barberini, a cardinal and Capuchin monk (and brother of Pope Urban VIII). The Barberini's were big business in this part of Rome and the nearest Metro Station is named for them, and opens onto a Piazza bearing their name opposite their Palace. Antonio, though, seems to have possessed some degree of humility for his simple tomb inside the Church bears the inscription "Here lies dust, ashes, nothing".

However, what really sets this Church apart is what is in the crypt. In 1631 the Capuchin Friars remains were brought from the old Friary (near the Trevi Fountain) and reburied in the crypt in Barberini's church. However, rather than a regular burial the bones were set out in elaborate tableaux, some wired together to form patterns, otherwise placed in poses.

Crypt of the Skulls (Sta. Maria della Concezione, Rome)

There are six separate crypts, the Crypt of the Resurrection, the Mass Chapel, the Crypt of the Skulls (pictured above), the Crypt of the Pelvises, the Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones (pictured below) and the Crypt of the Three Skeletons. Over time the remains of more than 6,000 souls found their way into this most bizarre form of church architecture. Amongst the dead interred in this bizarre fashion is a Barberini's princess who died as a child.

Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones (Sta. Maria della Concezione, Rome)

When you've passed all these gruesome but magnetically fascinating crypts you are faced with an inscription which reads "What you are, we used to be. What we are, you will be" - a cheery message if ever there was one!

The last to be interred here were in the 1870s and today it is one of Rome's most eerie and unusual tourist attractions.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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