What we are now you will be

Posted by Matt Foley on September 07, 2009 in Blog tagged with
Due to me being on holiday for the last wee while I haven’t posted much on here but, about two weeks ago in Rome, I visited a very special, and extremely spooky, little chamber of horrors, that I knew would be the topic of my first blog after returning home.
There is much to see in Rome, the usual haunts if you like, like the Colloseum, the astonishing Vatican and the sublime Piazza Venezia, but if you look a little harder in the Centro Storico you come across a striking, memorable and morbid little crypt. Just off the rather innocent sounding Barbarini Square is the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception (1645) and underneath this church lurks the Capuchin Crypt. This is a crypt decorated by the bones of over 4000 monks, some of whom had perhaps fled the French Revolution, and includes bones arranged in floral patterns, full skeletons shrouded in brown mantles and, ominously, a large clock made of human remains. It is also just has piles of skulls flanking the walls.
Unfortunately, photographs are forbidden, and so I couldn’t snap my own, but I have found some on the web that people have sneakingly taken. Hopefully I’m not breaking too many copyright laws by reproducing them here.







 These photographs are certainly striking but they fail really to capture just how claustrophobic you feel on entering the narrow passageway that runs along the individual crypts. Bone has literary been piled upon bone everywhere you look. You can’t glance anywhere in the space without seeing a cacophony of vertebrae, limbs and skulls. There is nothing to juxtapose this massive, imposing reminder of mortality. It seems almost as if the current proprietors of the crypt want to present atheists and agnostics alike with an unflinching reminder of the power of religious faith to provide a theological coping system to deal with mortality. There is a hollowing out of the human to the basic bones of our existence and constructions like love, hope, culture and society seem to have no space to breathe in this space of death absolute. An ominous plaque at the far end of the crypt hammers home the point and reads: “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…" I can’t say that I felt comfortable in the crypt but I admired the work and the designs that had gone into creating this space, as claustrophobic as it felt. It is certianly rare to find such a forceful reminder of mortality and for all the Gothic as an artistic aesthetic presents us with the macabre it still, mostly, has characters full of some sort of life – be it devious or otherwise. Amongst this intricately arranged pile of bones, however, there seemed very little space for life.

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