Rome's Capuchin Crypts: The Good, the Bad, and the Creepy (2024)

A dramatic and macabre memento mori

OK, so I understand why some Capuchin friars brought the skeletal remains of their brethren to be reburied beneath their new church back in the 1630s. I’m not clear on why they arranged the 3,700 bodies (or body parts) on the walls like artwork.

Rome’s Capuchin Crypts one of the most unusual things to do in Italy. Some claim they inspired other famous ossuaries, like the Bone Church near Prague. Of course, I had to go.

The Crypts turned out to be not at all what I expected. As in, not as good as I expected. But there was also a nice surprise to be had that I think still makes this a cool and unusual thing to do in Rome.

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Where are the Capuchin Crypts in Rome

The Capuchin Crypts are located beneath Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins, aka Santa Maria Della Concezione dei Cappuccini, in central Rome near the small Piazza Barberini. It’s about a 10-minute uphill walk north of Trevi Fountain and just a few steps from the Barberini subway stop.

If you didn’t know there was a macabre attraction inside you wouldn’t guess it from the pretty tree-lined street.

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But first… the Museum!

Rome’s Capuchin Crypts are operated by the Capuchin friars, and before you can climb down into the dark depths to gawk at the skeletons you must walk through their museum. And you know what? It’s a super interesting small museum I would not otherwise have visited. So good on them.

I learned that Capuchin refers to their religious vestments, a simple brown tunic with hood (or cappucio) and that they lived a strict austere life trying to confirm to the teachings of St. Francis of Asissi. Early leaders ran afoul of the Catholic establishment more than once, but eventually spread around the globe and are still active today.

The Capuchin Museum also has some impressive artworks such as St. Francis in Meditation by Caravaggio, one Italy’s great painters.

Want to see more Caravaggio? Read my best things to do in Florence.

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The Capuchin Crypts are weird. Not in a good way.

After learning about the history of the Capuchins you start down a narrow stairwell to the underground crypts.

They advertise several crypts but these are not separate rooms, more like alcoves one beside the other for you to file past. Like most crypts it’s tight so there’s no going back once you’re started and people are behind you. But I didn’t find it claustrophobic. It’s meant to be serious. But there was something about these tiny displays, each with their own “theme”, that felt a bit…. carny.

“Step right up, see the Crypt of the Pelvises!” “Exit through the gift shop, please…”

Actually, I found the pelvises arranged like butterflies to be artful and reverential, the highlight of the experience.

There is also Crypt of the Resurrection (a portrait of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, surrounded by various bones), Crypt of the Skulls (what you think it is) and Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones (ditto) and an altar (without bones).

At the end, you come to Crypt of the Three Skeletons. This looks like… a Halloween yard display. The center skeleton is holding a scythe in one hand and scales in the other. He’s posed in front of mounds of dirt, like fresh graveyards. There’s a sign:

“What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…”

I truly hope that if my bones are ever put on display it is not like this.

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Is it worth it?

If you’re into ossuaries, catacombs and crypts, yes, you should visit Rome’s Capuchin Crypts. I’m not complaining—honest! It’s just not quite the sombre experience I expected. It reminded me somewhat of the mummy museum of Guanajuato, Mexico, where the exhumed are on display to the public to help pay for upkeep of the cemetery.

No photos are allowed inside, so you’ll have to trust me that’s it’s both beautiful and tacky at the same time.

All things considered, this was still a highlight of unusual things to do in Rome.

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Know Before You Go

You don’t need to take a guided tour for this. An audio guide is included with admission, and it’s quite small. One ticket covers the museum and the crypts.

Open every day from 10am to 7pm.

Capuchin Crypt tickets cost 10 Euro for adults,6.50 Euro for students under 25, 65 and older, and under 18. Free for persons with disabilities and kids under seven. (Who is taking kids under 7?)

Not included in the Roma Pass.

There is a gift shop. Of course.

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