The Capuchin Friars
The Capuchins is a religious order that has been around for almost 500 years and a branch of the larger family of Franciscan friars, founded by St Francis in 1206. In fact, the Capuchins asked the pope to approve a separate rule for them in 1528 AD because they wanted to follow St Francis’ teaching in a more radical way. The Franciscan order has always been divided between factions with completely opposite interpretation of Francis’ rule: some demanded a stricter adherence to the vow of poverty, others objected that poverty is a spiritual quality and cannot be, so to speak, measured.
The Franciscan Order grew so fast in the early 13th century to not only attract thousands of followers and would-be friars, but also many sponsors and donors, and thus a great wealth. Was it conflicting with the vow of poverty to build such amazing churches like the St Francis’ Basilica in Assisi, or was it against the vow of poverty to possess books, build convents and even wear sandals? What is the border between strict necessity and coziness? And where does coziness end and wealth begins? This was the frame within which a peculiar reflection on the meaning of death arose. For the Capuchin friars, who had decided to create their own order, but always in the steps of St Francis’ spirituality, in order to live the vow of poverty with greater radicality, it was particularly important to be reminded at all time that this mortal life is not forever.
Nobody can bring the smallest possession with himself or herself in the afterlife, so there is no point in being attached to this mortal life. From this spiritual perspective, life is joy because we can leave behind the obsession of hoarding material wealth for ourselves or those who outlive us, and instead we can dedicate ourselves to be better people and have a spiritual life. The way the Capuchin monks rendered this whole reflection on death and the real meaning of life could appear gruesome and horrifying to us today, but their explicit way was meant to communicate a spiritual urgency, rather than a sense of macabre on which many tour operators build their itinerary.
We at Roma Experience believe that a visit to the Capuchin crypts connects with the other two steps of this Rome Catacombs Tour (the Catacombs of Domitilla and the Basilica of St Clement) because the Franciscan reflection on death actually is a continuation, in some ways, of the first Christians’ attention to the worship of the martyrs, the cult of the relics, the importance placed on on the saints mortal remains, and the very concept of burying the dead instead of cremating their bodies. For a cult so deeply hinged on the idea of the resurrection of the body, in a moment when the pagan religion went in the opposite direction, these manifestation of the macabre are but a reminder that there is a greater life after life. This final part of our guided tour will include a visit to the museums and the crypt of the Capuchin friars of Rome, an experience that leave many guests shocked at the sight of how entire walls, ceiling, objects, and even art works were made of with the bones and the skulls of the past friars. This is an underground Rome tour that you will remember forever.
Transportation and admission tickets are included.