Science

 This Rome Church Plaque Reads: “What You Are Now, We Once Were…What We Are Now, You Shall Be!”

Santa Maria Della Concezione Dei Cappuccini, or Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins, is a church in Rome, Italy, commissioned in 1626 by Pope Urban VIII, whose brother, Antonio Barberini, was a Capuchin friar. It is located at Via Veneto, close to Piazza Barberini.

The church was designed by Antonio Casoni and built between 1626 and 1631. It comprises a small nave and several side chapels. The chapels are notable as one contains the body of St. Felix of Cantalice and another is the tomb of the Saint Crispin of Viterbo

                                                        Front second ossuary’s chapel. ByCC BY 2.5, 

The crypt is located just under the church. Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who was a member of the Capuchin order, in 1631 had the remains of thousands of Capuchin friars exhumed and transferred from the friary Via dei Lucchesi to the crypt. The bones were arranged along the walls, and the friars began to bury their own dead here, as well as the bodies of poor Romans, whose tomb was under the floor of the present Mass chapel. Here the Capuchins would come to pray and reflect each evening before retiring for the night.

The crypt, or ossuary, now contains the remains of 4,000 friars buried between 1500 and 1870, during which time the Roman Catholic Church permitted burial in and under churches. The underground crypt is divided into five chapels, lit only by dim natural light seeping in through cracks, and small fluorescent lamps. The crypt walls are decorated with the remains in elaborate fashion, making this crypt a macabre work of art. Some of the skeletons are intact and draped with Franciscan habits, but for the most part, individual bones are used to create elaborate ornamental designs.

The crypt originated at a period of a rich and creative cult for their dead; great spiritual masters meditated and preached with a skull in hand.

A plaque in one of the chapels reads, in three languages, “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.” This is a memento mori.

The popularity of the crypt as a tourist attraction once rivaled the Catacombs. The Sedlec ossuary (1870) in the Czech Republic and the Skull Chapel in Poland are said to have been inspired by it.

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