The Retirees and the Capuchins – the Catacombs of Rome

Two more days of our Roman Holiday. After our visit to Castel Gandolfo we seemed to hit a dead spot but not for long. We took a tour of the catacombs and to pick up the tour we decided to walk which proved to be somewhat futile as we turned right when we should have turned left and ended back where we started which was not the intention. Even so we passed many interesting statues and buildings. We passed what appeared to be a monument to a mythical sea god, a building without corners and Trevi Foundation which is what we were looking for. Having visited the fountain by night on our Segway tour we thought we needed to see it with fewer people and get some day time shots.

Some of these ancient buildings are not actually so ancient but shopping centres made to resemble the ancient. We also passed through a square we had visited on the Segway tour where we were able to obtain photos of the pillar with an avenging angel on top at least I think it is an angel or is an apostle – it gets confusing. We finally made it to the square where we were to meet our guide along with a whole lot of other people. The group was divided into at least 4 smaller groups of 12 – 16 people bundled into buses and whisked away. In our case it was to visit the Capuchin Convent – Cimitero dei Cappuccini: The Capuchin Crypt.

The Capuchin Order arose in 1525 when Matteo da Bascio, an Observant Franciscan friar said he had been inspired by God with the idea that the manner of life led by the friars of his day was not the one which their founder, St. Francis of Assisi, had envisaged. He sought to return to the primitive way of life of solitude and penance, as practiced by the founder of their Order.

Matteo and his companions were formed into a separate province, called the Hermit Friars Minor, as a branch of the Conventual Franciscans, but with a Vicar Provincial of their own, subject to the jurisdiction of the Minister General of the Conventuals. The Observants, the other branch of the Franciscan Order at that time, continued to oppose the movement.

The crypt is located just under the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome. Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who was of the Capuchin Order, in 1631 ordered the remains of thousands of Capuchin friars exhumed and transferred from the friary on the Via dei Lucchesi to the crypt. The bones were arranged along the walls in varied designs, 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 1500–1870, 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 extensively with the remains, depicting various religious themes. Some of the skeletons are intact and draped with Franciscan habits, but for the most part, individual bones are used to create the elaborate ornamental designs.

Unfortunately no photos allowed.

I must say it was quite strange, but everything came back to reality when we entered the gift shop for the crypt – I kid you not!

Our next visit was to what I considered the real catacombs The Catacombs of Domitilla

They are situated over 16 metres underground, about 2 kilometers from the south of Appia Antica (Appian Way) and spans 15 kilometers in distance. They were actively used as a cemetery from around first through fifth centuries CE and were rediscovered in 1593 by Antonio Bosio, an archaeologist. They include more than 26,000 tombs. Inside the Catacombs of Domitilla are images, some of which were revealed by the restoration, reflecting the life of bakers, grape vines, Jesus with the apostles, Noah’s ark, and Daniel with the lions. No pictures allowed but rather spooky in parts. No bones that we could see but apparently there are still remains somewhere in there. This was underneath a church and the church had a gift shop of sorts but no where near as weird as the Capuchins.

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Retired Australian Lawyer having worked representing the innocent and the not so innocent in Australia and some of the remote parts of the world and having travelled widely through Europe, Western Russia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Thailand Malaysia Solomon Islands northern China, Hong Kong and the UAE So now that I have the time I am writing about my travels present and past. Hope you enjoy exploring off the beaten track.