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Bones and Brimstone in Rome

What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.
Rome provides numerous excellent spots for a tad more morbid touristic destinations. The famous Roman catacombs are an obvious target for at least every other tourist, and many city center churches provide access to their crypts, underground vaults and tombs. And one doesn't run out of churches in Rome very quickly. However, the Eternal City has two even more cadaverous places to visit for those after somewhat more macabre rambling.

Bony Grim Reaper lurking on the ceiling.
Let us start from the end: Death. In addition to inspiring the name for a type of coffee, the order of Capuchin friars has also had a peculiar way to burying their dead brothers. They dug them up and used their bones to decorate the crypt of the church of Santa Maria della Immacolata Concezione. The ossuary ornaments and bone piles consist of skeletons of about 4000 friars. The grotesque adornments consist of individual bones arranged in most imaginative way for example as skull-pelvic butterflies, shoulder-blade lanterns and all kinds of decorative patterns within the stretchy boundaries of human imagination. The skeleton Grim Reaper with a scythe and scales made of bones was probably my favourite.I have to agree with Marquis de Sade: The Capuchin Crypt is really worth a visit.

A photocopy of a burn mark made on the apron of
Sister M. Herendorps by the hand of the deceased
Sister Mary Care Schoelers, a victim of the plague
of 1637. (Original apron is kept in Germany.)
After death comes afterlife. So it's convenient to continue to the next level: the Purgatory. In roaring catholic Italy it's a common thing to believe that some dead souls have to suffer a temporary rather than eternal punishment in order to purify themselves from all the sins before entering the Heaven. Or something. Fine. But what in fact is this Purgatory? Is it merely a 'condition of existence' like the previous Pope put it, or an actually physical, undoubtedly a fiery place where you actually go after dying to fry your sins away? In Rome you will have an excellent opportunity to review the evidence of the latter yourself: The wonderfully named Little Purgatory Museum (Piccolo Museo Del Purgatorio) in the church of the Sacred Heart sports numerous exhibits that have been burned by people reaching out from the flames of Purgatory.

The tunic of Mother Isabella, burnt by Father Panzini
in 1731. The story says the burn mark is on the sleeve.
No shit. Among about ten purgatorial items enclosed in a single huge glass case (so that they are very difficult to photograph) you have for example a small prayer book with burnt fingerprints, a night-cap with burnt fingerprints, and piece of table surface with a charred cross and a hand-shaped mark. Dead people have reached from the depths of the purifying holy fire and scorched stuff.

Why? Usually the point for a dead person suffering in eternal flames is to appear to someone familiar and ask him or her to pray on to shorten the time in purgatory. I don't know how it worked out for the souls that burned these objects. Nor do I know how modern insurance companies would react to claims for indemnity for purgatory-burned property. But the exhibition is definitely worth seeing.

Edit: Check also the video filmed in the Capuchin crypt!

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