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Is The Bone Church In Rome, Italy Worth Your Time?

The Bone Church in Rome, Italy, also known as the Capuchin Crypt and Museum, is a cemetery and crypt of the Capuchin order that is not for the faint of heart.

Bone Church In Rome Italy - Crypt

It’s a Museum, Crypt and Church

The History Of The Bone Church In Rome, Italy

The Capuchin church and friary on via Vittorio Veneto in Rome were built in 1631, which is the same time as the nearby Palazzo Barberini was completed. The Capuchins left their old friary near the Trevi Fountain and came in procession of this new one on 15 April, 1631.

Most of this information was gleaned from a tour I took of the catacombs recently, both from a tour guide and a printed guide that was available for purchase in the gift shop.

The architect of the new building, Fr. Michael of Bergamo, had many things moved to the new location, including the bones of friars who had been buried under the Church of Saint Bonaventure. Capuchin law did not allow burials to take place within the churches, so he designed an underground cemetery for the friars under the chapels. From then until 1870, this was the burial place of the Capuchins who died in the friary.

The Marquis de Sade, who visited the Capuchin Crypt in 1775, describes it as:

“A German priest living in this house has fashioned a funerary monument worthy of an English mind. In six or seven small rooms, one beside the other, he has made some niches, vaults and ceiling ornaments of regular and pleasing design, lamps, crosses etc., the whole made out of bones and skulls. In each of the niches or under every arcade there is a well preserved skeleton, placed in varying attitudes, some reclining, others in the act of preaching, others at prayer. All these skeletons are dressed in the Capuchin habit: some are bearded. Never have I seen anything more impressive, and to make it more so, it seems to me, one should visit this monument, not by day but by the light of the funereal lamps that are within. ] In each of these small rooms are distributed, like stones in a garden, the several tombs of these good friars. However, the sight of death surrounding them on all sides does not prevent them from being as cheerful as in the rest of Europe!”. De Sade, perhaps to satisfy his fervid imagination, has added some details, because now we no longer see skeletons “in the act of preaching or at prayer”.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, in “The Marble Faun“, speaks of the catacombs in horrified tones, writing in the form of a novel:

“The arrangement of the unearthed skeletons is what makes the special interest of the cemetery. There is no possibility of describing how ugly and grotesque is the effect, combined with a certain artistic merit, nor how much perverted ingenuity has been shown in this queer way.”

From The Museum To The Crypt

The Capuchin Cemetery and Crypt is an integral part of the museum complex of the Capuchins in Rome, made up of the Museum, the Crypt and the Church.

Bone Church In Rome Italy - Museum

The Capuchin Museum

There isn’t much separation between these three places, which preserves the essential characteristics of the Capuchin Franciscan culture and spirituality. The visit to the Museum concludes in a light filled space where you can enjoy the courtyard of the friary. Be sure not to go through the museum too quickly or you might pass by a beautiful painting by Caravaggio, Saint Francis in Prayer, which should not be missed.

The Crypts Of The Bone Church

After enjoying the museum artifacts and artwork, there are five separate and distinct crypts in the catacomb complex. They are the Crypt of the Three Skeletons, the Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones, the Crypt of the Pelvises, the Crypt of the Skulls and finally the Crypt of the Resurrection.

The Bone Church Crypt Of The Three Skeletons

After entering the crypt, when you look to the right you find yourself in the middle of an ornate space, the vault and walls decorated with human bones.

Bone Church In Rome Italy - The Three Skeletons

The Three Skeletons

The remains of two Capuchin friars seem to be resting in two arched niches, with two others seemingly standing in the niches. Throughout the Crypt the corpses are wearing the characteristic robes of the Capuchins.

This is the only area where the skeletons can be seen in its unadorned entirety. The three skeletons are young children to show that death can come at any age. The side walls contain two wide arched niches with the bodies of two Capuchin friars lying on cushions made of bones. The piles of bones are interspersed at intervals by rows of skulls running lengthwise.

The walls of the two niches are decorated with floral motifs made of ribs, vertebrae and parts of the knee bones. The front wall on its outer sides has two niches filled with sacral bones and vertebrae, lined on the inside with pelvises. They contain two more Capuchins who are standing upright. In the center, a pile of pelvises supports two small skeletons, one hand holding a skull with shoulder blades on either side.

Bone Church In Rome Italy - Thigh Bones

Thigh Bones Everywhere!

The Bone Church Crypt Of The Leg Bones And Thigh Bones

Each of the side walls have four niches with four Capuchins standing and clothed in the habit. The piles of bones are interspersed at intervals with skulls, from top to bottom. Sacral bones decorate the capitals and indicate the point where the arched niches begin.

The rear wall has the same structure and composition as the side walls. There is a row of sacral bones supporting the skulls resting on pelvises, sacral bones and arm bones. The main structure is mostly made up of skulls with decoration being more varied with two protruding rows of skulls, shoulder blades and arm bones.

The Bone Church Crypt Of The Pelvises

As with the two previous areas, the side walls contain two Capuchins reclining in an arched niche. The background has a design made up of foot bones and kneecaps, which is repeated at the top of the rear wall. The pile of bones is mixed with two rows of skulls. The rear wall has three niches holding three monks and is made up of pelvises and is edged with vertebrae. The crosses in the ground mark the graves of seven more Capuchins.

Bone Church In Rome Italy - The Skulls

Crypt Of The Skulls

The Bone Church Crypt Of The Skulls

The side walls contain two curved niches, with the bodies of two Capuchin friars lying in a resting position. The niches are made of arm and thigh bones supporting a frame of skulls, which have been inserted lengthwise on different levels as if to form a base or capital for the arch. The back wall resumes and develops the skull motif which crowns the side piles with three niches containing the bodies of three standing Capuchins.

The Bone Church Crypt Of The Resurrection

In the side walls are two triangular arches formed by skulls, thigh bones and leg bones, another resting place of two more Capuchin friars. The decorations consist of a skull and crossed thigh bones, and heel bones. In the vault are three large rosettes made up of sacral bones, enclosed within frames of vertebrae, accompanying the two arches outlining the edges of the vault. Flowers made up of ribs and vertebrae mark the base of the arches with a sacrum and a cross of thigh bones. Four flowers made with sacral bones at the edges of the rosettes complete the arch. The crosses on the ground indicate the burial place of seven friars. In the rear wall, pelvises and pelvic girdles form the horizontal bar of the frame, while skulls and long bones form the arch. The frame of the portrait of the raising of Lazarus, which is where the crypt gets its name.

How To Visit The Bone Church In Rome, Italy

This is definitely a unique site to visit in Rome and is a strong reminder of our mortality. My opinion is that if you were planning to travel to Palermo, Sicily anytime soon, you might consider skipping the crypt in Rome and visiting the one in Palermo. I found it considerably more interesting and less made to look like decorations, which I found a bit odd.


  • Address:
    • Via Vittorio Veneto 27, Rome 00187
  • Hours:
    • Everyday from 10:00 to 19:00 with last entry at 18:30
  • Holidays:
    • Closed Easter day
    • November 2nd closing at 15:00
    • December 24th closed at 2:30pm 
    • December 25th closed
    • December 31st closing at 2:30pm
    • January 1st closed 
  • Tel: 06/88803695
  • email: segreteria@cappucciniviaveneto.it

Can You Take Photos In The Bone Church?

This is a sore spot with me because I was keeping an eye out for any indication of not being allowed to take pictures, which I wanted to do for this blog, and I only saw a sign restricting videos and talking on your cell phone (assuming because there was an image of a phone).

Immediately after charging my credit card the entrance fee I was informed I couldn’t take photos. I gave the woman at the cash register a death stare and continued on. I noticed others taking pictures and video, so I chose to violate the rule out of spite.

It’s possible that the photography restrictions were only for the crypt, and not the museum, but it wasn’t clear to me in my silent rage. Enjoy the pictures!

Do You Need Tickets For Capuchin Crypt?

Capuchin Crypt tickets will cost you €8.50 for an individual, with a reduced price of €5.00 if you are a student under 25 (with proof). If you are part of a group, your price is only €6.00.

Are There Tours Of The Bone Church In Rome, Italy?

There are group tours of the crypt. A guided tour in Italian is €65 for the group, and the English and French tours are €80. It is required to book a guided group tour 15 days in advance. There is also an audio guide that you can buy for €5 and it is available in English, Italian and Spanish. If you want a (spiteful) recommendation, the guided tours move slowly, so you can probably do what I did, just pay for the entrance and follow a tour group as they move very slowly and make it difficult to pass by them.

More Ways To Enjoy The Bones

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