If you are loving your time in Italy soaking up the intense sunlight, gorging on fresh ingredients and walking around the bustling cities, you are no doubt present in the moment and are very much engaged in all things that indicate life. Underneath your feet however lie a much bleaker side to Italy that shows highlights the inevitable end that comes for all of us. Here beneath the joyous crowds of the living lurk thousands of bodies in part and whole, some decayed down to their bones others remarkably well preserved. These bodies are what make up the contents of the many Ossuaries of Italy, just like crypts and catacombs these final resting places are a testament to the dead unlike the many things above the surface that support the living.
Why Are They Here?
It may seem bizarre to us today to have a site for burying many bodies at once but its actually quite forward thinking. The common graveyard actually suffers from overcrowding, with a full size body and a wooden box for everyone who has kicked the bucket, there is only so much ground space that can be covered, which is why many places can no longer take new occupants, its also why many of the grounds suffer from fractures and bumps in the earth as things tend to move around slightly with time. In Crypts sometimes a skull is taken and the bodies are dispatched of by other means, eventually letting nature do its thing and return it to its elements with help from the wildlife and funghi. Additionally, and more importantly these places acted as an honourable and sacred place for someone to leave their body. The remains of holy people such as monks, priests and more, who wished to exist within a religious space after they have expired, are the ones who generally occupy catacombs and crypts.
In the case of the Capuchin Crypt in Rome which you can visit, when the monks arrived here from their old monastery they brought with them hundreds of cartloads of dead friars in hope to bury them in a place worthy of their duty. Here skulls are stacked in piles, pelvic bones are interwoven, and spines are joined to create arches and altars out of bones. Without the religious regalia that covers the walls and the crosses that sit amongst the remains, it would be easy to mistake this place as a sanctum for some sort of horror film. However macabre it may seem at first, what you have to remember is that this place was created to both serve and remember those who have passed away.
Many religions of course believe that death is not the end of our journey and so many rituals exist even after their people have expired in order to help them in the afterlife. Blessings, preservation, body dressings such as mummification and more are all part of the supporting ideas that death is not the end, and these monuments to the people who served their religion really show that off.