Museum & 500-year-old monastery, with a crypt known for its elaborately arranged skulls & bones. The Capuchin Museum was born with the intention of presenting to the many visitors from all over the world a living and organic reality, which, through the Church, the Cemetery and the Museum exhibition, presents itself in its historical becoming. This institution traces history, presenting the exemplary life of the Capuchin saints such as, St. Felix of Cantalice, St. Crispin of Viterbo and St. Lawrence of Brindisi, but also figures of vast public resonance such as St. Pio of Pietrelcina, stigmatized for 50 years and Father Mariano of Turin, first multimedia preacher, Father Gianfranco M. Chiti wise and holy educator of countless ranks of soldiers and then of young Capuchins.
The eight rooms of the exhibition itinerary capture the simple lifestyle as well as the continuous closeness to the poorest and the great spirit of fraternity that characterizes the religious order of the Capuchin Friars Minor.
A recent makeover has turned what was once just a creepy crypt beneath the Capuchin church into a Franciscan monk ‘experience’, complete with displays of the knotted whips with which the friars liked to flagellate themselves, cases of odd artefacts confiscated by missionaries from ‘natives’, and rooms dedicated to the order’s saints and heroes. Don’t let the wishful-thinking label fool you into thinking that the painting of St Francis in the museum attributed to Caravaggio is by the 17th-century genius – it isn’t. The crypt is the main draw. In ghoulish glory, the bones of generations of monks, buried here in soil brought from Jerusalem then dug up to make room for newcomers, are arranged artfully in patterns on walls and ceilings, and fashioned into macabre chandeliers. Just in case you don’t get the message, a jolly sign at the entrance reads ‘You will be what we now are’.
Lacking the certainty of history, as documents are lacking, we resorted to fantasy. It was meant that during the years of the Terror in France, some Capuchins, in order not to renounce their faith and save their heads from the guillotine, took refuge in Rome. There is more than one hypothesis: that it is the work of a “grotesque eremitical genius“ or “the patience of a friar“ or, again, the work of a man of “ardent faith who almost jokes with death“ thinking about the Resurrection. Marquis De Sade writes that “a German priest from this house executed a funeral monument worthy of an English genius.“ In this place, consisting of a corridor about thirty meters long, currently flanked by six rooms, the mortal remains of about 3,700 deceased, mostly Capuchin friars, were collected. Tradition has it that the land of this cemetery is holy land brought here from Palestine or even from Jerusalem.