Thursday, January 23, 2014

Santa Maria della Concezione (I Cappuccini) -- The Undeniability of Death

On Day 2, I jumped at the chance to walk up to the crypt at the capuchin church and monastery, where there is a most disturbing crypt.  

In a series of small chapels underneath the church are dirt floors -- soil from the Holy Land -- wherein monks were buried.  But arranged into symmetrical forms, almost as ornament along the walls, and on the ceilings, and as light fixtures are....human bones.  Using the remains of nearly 4000 bodies believed to Capuchin friars, buried here (and disinterred after 30 years) or brought from other monasteries, in flight from persecution, someone -- not exactly clear who -- created these installations.  Skulls we may all have seen.  And whole skeletons.  But the use of every bone as building material -- hip bones, vertebrae, fingers, shoulder blades -- is something I had not seen.  I expected  campy excursion and it was rather more disturbing.

Is it a reminder of the transience of life -- as in the lines in the first chapel:  "What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be"?

Or is it the macabre obsessive work of a mad monk?

One of the themes of my work here is about how preservation deals with the passing of buildings and how we might have a better attitude toward 'architectural death.'  Perhaps the crypt at Santa maria della Concezione may have some lessons.  But I am not quite sure.

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