One of the places that intrigued me in Rome, and which I made an effort to see, was the Capuchin Crypt. The pictures I offer here are not mine, but are re-worked images taken from the internet. The Catholic Order that owns the crypt under the Santa Maria della Concezione does not permit photographers, and I can understand why. The urge to maximise the macabre could be misused. And yet, in a Druid context, death and respect for the ancestors is very important, and I was struck by the conflicting emotions that this place invoked within me.
The crypt beneath Santa Maria is found toward the end of a very fine museum that takes you through the history of the Order, using high tech presentations and actual relics and artefacts. The museum is very modern and interesting, and only at the very entrance to the crypts do you start to get a sense of the place itself – a slight scent of decay. In brief, since they arrived in the 1600’s, the monks have accumulated the bones of approximately 4000 of their peers, exhumed from communal graves in the crypt. These bones, disassembled from the skeleton, were then used to decorate the crypt.
The intention appears to be to reinforce the finality of death in a physical sense, and there is no doubt when you walk into the crypt that you have a full understanding of mortality. In a non-Catholic context, where Ancestral bones are revered as intimately connected with spirit, the crypt is a chaotic melange… the sense of individuality being utterly subsumed into the group. Perhaps that too is intended; the human ego being subordinate to the Christian deity.
The construction of these rooms would have taken significant energy – an act of devotion. Someone suggested it had a resonance with the work of Damien Hirst, and I can see the link while at the same time seeing how the two ‘art forms’ are born of very different intention. I would be interested in viewpoints from other pagan folk, such as Emma Restall Orr and Honouring the Ancient Dead, and perhaps Arthur Pendragon and his fight for reburials at Stonehenge. Very different issues, but still regarding the remains of those long dead, pagan or no.
Ok, enough text. You should know by now whether you want to look at these images.