When I was young, I developed a love for monkeys. I loved the monkey bars on swingsets and one of my favorite stuffed animals (and for those who know me, it is rare I have a connection with a stuffed animal) was a small Capuchin monkey who's arms and legs had velcro which kept them together so you could wrap him around your limbs. I really liked Capuchin monkeys. Of all the monkeys, they were my favorite.
Upon doing research for my European adventure, Fodors had on their list a Roman church by the name of Santa Maria della Concezione. Rome is a big city and it's a Catholic city. There are a LOT of churches that Fodors has on their website as places worth visiting but Santa Maria della Concezione was different. It's description had the words "bones of some 4,000 dead Capuchin monks." There...I was sold. Especially since I didn't read it correctly and thought it said "dead Capuchin monkeys." Don't ask my why I didn't question it... My love for the capuchin monkey and the fact that I could see all these bones of them fascinated me and this church shot to the top of my "must-see" list.
The "Capuchin monkey crypt" (as I call it now) is a beautiful, visual wonder and is one of my top 5 favorite places from this trip. I don't know if it's in my top 5 ever, but it sits high above a lot of things famously associated with Rome and with Europe. It is the definition of "off the beaten path"...even though it is in Fodors. The church sits high off the street so there are stairs leading to the doors and the crypts entrance is off to the right on the first landing. Because I got there after the church had closed I never made it inside but that didn't matter to me. The crypt was still open and I didn't give a damn about what was inside the actual sanctuary.
The crypt has a "no photographs allowed" policy so I will do my best with a written description of how the crypt is designed. You enter into a very small room which serves as the gift shop and ticket office. The cost is 1Euro and it is sooooo worth it. To the right is the crypt, a narrow hallway extends maybe 150 feet before it dead ends at a concrete wall. And on the left of the hall are 6 individual nooks...like chapels in a church...maybe 20 feet wide and 15-20 feet deep. Upon stepping up to view the first nook, it took me a few minutes to register what I was looking at. I knew I was going to be viewing bones, but thinking you'd be seeing monkey bones and seeing human ones instead was slightly jarring. In addition, absorbing the absolutely amazing artwork of the bones took a few moments. Like seeing the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame or the Sistine Chapel, this little crypt was so fascinating and jaw-droppingly fabulous that it took my eyes some time to visually adjust to the wonder of it all.
Each nook of the crypt depicts a different image and everything is made out of the bones of Capuchin monks. Some heavily use the femurs and ribs while others use all the shoulder and arm bones. And there's one mostly incorporating only skulls and vertebrae. There are a number of full skeletons as well either positioned on their backs like in a tomb or standing with the monk robe on. In the last nook, there is a full skeleton attached to the ceiling. Speaking of ceilings...in this crypt no two ceilings are alike, and it was the ceilings that kept me staring in absolute awe of this place.
In all the churchs, museums and palaces I was fortunate to visit the ceilings were all ornately carved and designed specifically to work with the overall design of the room. In the "monkey crypt" the ceilings were made the same way. However, instead of carved, the crypt artists used the bones to create the designs. And what amazed me was the designs they created looked extremely similar to those in other Roman churches...just that these were made of bone. So fascinating. I couldn't stop staring and staring and staring. Each piece was artistic and creative. Like the Sistine Chapel, I couldn't comprehend the imagination needed to create something this impressive so staring and drooling over its awesomeness was the only thing I could do.
Though I couldn't take any pictures, I did purchase 2 postcards in order to have a memory of one of the coolest things I've ever seen. My lovely printer doesn't like to scan so I opted for the easy way and took pictures of the postcard to share with you all.
For any of those who read this and watch "Bones"...wouldn't this be the best place for a body to be found? Almost like the "Mummy in the Maze" when they had the corpse in the "House of 1000 Corpses" but better because all these are real skeletons. It would blend in so well. If only the writers were allowed to take ideas from non-staff members...