Sunday afternoon, we visited the Crypt of the Capuchins in Santa Maria della Concezione. A stern-faced woman guards it, demanding donatives and wrapping any bare shoulders she sees in plastic, but if you make it past her disapproving scowl you enter a narrow corridor that runs alongside six fenced-in chapels. Five are floored with moist black soil from Jerusalem. All around you, the walls and ceilings of the chapels and the corridor are covered in elaborate decorations, and all of them — the flowers, the chandeliers, the rosettes, the winged hourglasses, the clocks — are made from the bones of Capuchin monks. Tibias are stacked like cordwood; cowled skeletons recline beneath arches of skulls; florets of vertebrae are wired to the walls; two mummified arms are crossed in a frame of ribs to form the order's coat of arms; the bones of a princess hang from the ceiling, holding a scale made from the tops of skulls and a scythe of scapulae and femurs. There are so many bones, over 400,000, that they stop being bones and start being elements of a larger tapestry — until your perspective snaps again, and you remember what you're looking at. The bones are gray, dry, rough-edged; some are tagged and labeled in pencil written in a variety of hands. You could touch them — you have to hunch your shoulders to avoid touching them — but the dragon lady warned you not to. The dark soil floors allow for the possibility of hidden depths, of emergence; they sprout bone crosses where more monks are buried. Only one chapel, the second, holds no soil, no visible bones; it is all white marble, but the black and swollen heart of Maria Felice Peretti, great-niece of Pope Sixtus V, is preserved here beneath her sepulchre.
In the last chapel, a hand-lettered sign in five languages reads: What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.
Photos were not allowed, but you can find scans of postcards on the web, and this brief YouTube tour.