One of the most interesting sites in Rome is the church Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappucini. Here is some of the information on this most unusual site.
Not for those that are a bit squeamish about death the bones have been used to decorate all the chapels to honor the brother friars. It should be visited with veneration and respect but is one of the most unusual sites that I have seen. The inscription by the exit says You are what we have been. You will be what we are. It really gives you a perspective of our place on this earth.
Capuchins have always been “brothers of the people”, particularly during the various epidemics that have struck Rome, and during the last war with its episodes of racial discrimination. The old friary was once the international headquarters of the Order, and is now the Provincial headquarters of the Roman Capuchins. It is ordinarily staffed by about 15 friars who are occupied in various tasks such as prayer, study and the apostolate. There is also a flourishing fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO).
Chiesa di Santa Maria Immacolata Concezione – Convento e cripta dei Cappuccini is the first Roman Church dedicated “to God in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. It is led by the Minor Capuchins, the group of Franciscan friars living in the adjacent convent rebuilt from 1928 to 1933, after that an old one dating back to 1631 had been demolished to open Via Veneto and to build up the Ministry for Corporations, as it was then called.
THE VAULT OF THE CHURCH is barrel-like. At its centre there is the Assumption by Liborio Coccetti (+1728). ON THE TWO SIDES OF THE PRESBYTERY’S BOW the pictures with St. Francis and St. Clare painted by the Capuchin Paolo Piazza (Cosmo da Castelfranco Veneto, +1620). The only remarkable tomb as a monument is the one belonging to Prince Alessandro Sobieski (+1714), the son of John III, the winner over the Turks in Vienna, by Camillo Rusconi (+1728).
The Convento dei Frati Cappuccini church is famous for its five subterranean chapels decorated with the bones and skeletons of 4000 dead brothers-Capuchins from the 17th century onwards. To realize this idea, they had to bring the “material” from the old ceno by S.Nicolo’ de Porcis on the Quirinal (modern Chiesa di S.Croce e S.Bonaventura) through 300 trips up and down in the carriages full of bones in the period between 1627-1631. The ground covering the pavement of the cemetery is said to be brought from the Holy Land. There is an interesting inscription by the exit: “You are what we have been. You will be what we are.”
The link is a view of the tombs hope you visit it.
I would like to share with you one of the most moving experiences of my life. In the Holy Year 2000 we were lucky enough to travel to Rome and experience it first hand. This is a photo of the Porto Santa that is only open during the holy years. We visited every one of them while in Rome and also the Porto Santa in St Patricks Cathedral here in New York City.
While in Rome we were privileged to be able to visit the Necropolis under the Vatican Basilica which was discovered between 1939 and 1949 under the Vatican archeological team led by Monsignor Ludwig Kaas. He had discovered a complex of Pagan mausoleums under the foundations of St. Peter’s basilica. These dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The construction of the Old St. Peters and the building of the Baldacchino had destroyed them. When Constantine built the basilica he built it over the tomb of the apostle and first pope St. Peter who it is said was crucified upside down because he felt not worthy to be crucified as was Christ. For many years people thought this was just a myth. When the excavations were started under the basilica a Roman cemetery from the same period was found. The Vatican hill was used as burials could not take place in the city. After St. Peter was crucified many Christians chose to be buried in that holy place.
The site includes several graves and a tomb that is said to memorialize the grave of St. Peter. It is in a complex of other mausoleums that date to between AD 130 and AD 300. This complex was destroyed and filled in to build the foundation for the first St. Peter’s Basilica during the reign of Constantine I about AD 330.
In the holy year December of 1950 Pius XII stated that the remains of St. Peter could not be confirmed. In 1953, after these initial archeological investigations were done a set of bones had been removed from the niche (loculus) in the north side of a a wall. This was the graffiti wall that abuts the red wall. Testing indicated that these were the bones of a 60-70 year old man. These have been argued to be the remains of St. Peter and had been moved from the grave at the time of Constantine AD 313.
Following the discovery of further bones and an inscription on June 26, 1968 Pope Paul VI announce that the remains of St. Peter had been found.
We had heard about this Scalvi and got tickets for myself and my friends. I am by no means a religious Catholic. I am interested in all religions. My friends are practicing Catholics however. My interests were really more in the Roman archaeology. So off we go down three stories under the basilica. There we found a city of the dead. Tombs with heart breaking epitaphs to long dead wives, children and husbands we went from ancient Roman tomb to the next. Our guide was a wonderful very well informed seminarian. At last we came to the tomb of St. Peter with it’s graffitti from the past. It is very strange but there is an emotional response that even to this day I cannot explain. The tears flowed freely. A feeling of connection to the past opened up. That feeling is with me today. The excavations have continued and from what I understand these new excavations are even more spectacular. I however will always remember a little red chink in a wall that is the tomb of the apostle Peter and it’s affect on me.