Monday, June 6, 2011

Italy #2: Bones

I am a big fan of the weird things. Or like...weird touristy things, I should say. Once when BFF Sarah and I visited my sister in Atlanta (for Spring Break 2000, mind you), we drove all the way to Marietta, about 40 minutes away, just to take some pictures with a giant chicken that was part of a KFC. We drove there, took some pictures, got back in the car, and drove back to Atlanta. Why not?

And another time when I was in Atlanta, my sister and I drove to Dahlonega, GA (about a 65 mile trip, one way) to see a zedonk. Yep, a zedonk; half zebra, half donkey. Sara had read an article about it, see, and so since we had a day free, we really didn't have any other choice. I mean, come on guys! Zedonk! The Chestatee Wildlife Preserve was one of the weirdest places I've ever been, but that's another story for another blog entry that doesn't fall in the middle of my Italy series. To summarize, this zedonk was crazy. It was like a regular donkey with tall, zebra-striped legs. And we drove for over two hours that day to see it. Yep.

Whenever people visit me in Madison, some of my favorite places to go include Dr. Evermore's, home of the Forevertron, The Mustard Museum, and the awesome optical illusion of the Capital that you can see from just south of Monona Bay. And although I've still never been to the taxidermy museum in a funeral home (which includes squirrels in various poses and situations), I have big plans to go very soon. Big plans.

I guess I've always loved stuff like this because it's a little funny, or maybe you could even say it's "off the beaten path." That's what people say, right? In fact, I enjoy scouring this one website, Roadside America, to find more hilarious and unusual sights. But today, every "strange" thing I've ever seen fell into the background. Want to know why? Because today we visited a church in Rome that was decorated with the bones of monks. Hundreds of thousands of monk bones.

For real.

We got to the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini Church at about 9 am, right as they were opening. We went directly to the lower level which holds the Capuchin Crypt. This is where one will find the bones. It is believed that over 4000 bodies, mostly those of friars, were brought to this church over a period of about 350 years, between 1528 and 1870. The soil on the ground of the crypt was brought to Rome from Jerusalem, and the bones were arranged to decorate six separate rooms in the crypt, each with a different name, and seemingly, a theme:
  • Crypt of the Resurrection
  • The Mass Chapel
  • Crypt of the Skulls
  • Crypt of the Pelves
  • Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones
  • Crypt of the Three Skeletons
We stood in awe next to these rooms, jaws dropped and eyebrows raised, silent and a teensy bit horrified. But mostly in awe. My father began naming the bones we saw, which I know sounds a little funny, but it really wasn't at that moment. It just made it all more real. He was incredulous, looking up at the ceiling and pointing out individual bones, identifying them quietly, and assisting us in making the connection that, yes, these bones come from bodies. Human bodies - thousands of them. In each of the six rooms and in the hallway connecting them, there were ceiling borders made of the flat pelvic bones and hanging lamps made of vertebrae. Long, narrow femurs were arranged to look like flowers and rib bones were attached together on the ceiling to create decorative stars. We weren't allowed take pictures, so these are from National Geographic and some travel sites.

And the skulls. Oh my god, the skulls. One small area contained probably about 400-500 skulls. They were stacked on top of each other in one area, three wide and eleven high, to make an outlined space. On either side of these columns, more skulls were stacked, but randomly, with neck bones between them to fill the empty space.

In the last small room, The Crypt of the Three Skeletons, one full skeleton hung from the ceiling. In one hand, it carried the scales of justice. In the other, a scythe, which is the tool of the Grim Reaper. Death. And yes, everything, the scales, the scythe, everything, was made from more bones. And underneath the hanging skeleton, a quote:

En Italiano: « Noi eravamo quello che voi siete, e quello che noi siamo voi sarete. »

In English: "What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be..."

This place was crazy. It was both chilling and fascinating, leaving me with a weirdly desperate feeling in my stomach - desperate to get out, and soon after, desperate to go back in. This is one of the strangest and most memorable touristy things I've ever done. I mean, The Mustard Museum is great and all, but cannot even hold a candle to the Monk Bones Church. Not even close.


Sara Ashes said...

Dad also walked by me a couple times and said very quietly to me, "this is going to give you so many nightmares," and then giggled a little. So great- add to the list of ways I am scarred for life on family vacations- the first example being of course the Jaws exhibit at Universal Studios. I love that my wiener reputation continues well into my thirties.

Reem Tara said...

And specifically that these scarring experiences are directly related to or caused by Dad. =) I'm scarred from watching him get throw around by rough waves in the ocean in Mexico...yours are funnier!

SophisticatedBrew said...

WoAh! Amazing pictures. I mean of us and the KFC rooster. The bones are neat too. ;)

Anna said...

omg, your family trips! I am so in awe of you guys! this monk bone church has seriously creepered me out, I had to put down my milky tea for a min.

p.s. "Crypt of the Pelves" PELVES!!