Beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome, Italy is a crypt composed of several chapels. Over 4,000 Capuchin friars rest their bones there -- if you can call being nailed to the wall as decoration or hanging from the ceiling as a light fixture rest.

These monks, who died between 1528 and 1870, separated from the Franciscans in 1525 so they could return to a life of service as interpreted by St. Francis' commandment to help the poor and sick. Known by their trademark hooded robes and long beards, their life of extreme austerity, simplicity and poverty meant they had no money or possessions, at one time wore no shoes and practiced frequent fasting. In 1631, Cardinal Antonio Barberini ordered the remains of thousands of Capuchin friars to be exhumed and moved from the Via dei Lucchesi to the crypt under the church (which was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in 1626). The bones were then arranged on the walls and in the chapels in elaborate designs. Other skeletons were left intact and are still swathed in their habits. Friars were "buried" here from then on, along with the poor who died in Rome. While this seems like a morbid sentiment, the Capuchins would spend hours every day in the crypt praying -- they saw the bone chapel as a "kind of hymn to life."

Visitors to the church can enter the underground crypt and explore the chapels where the halls are lit by only natural light or dim fixtures. Many famous names have written about the crypt including Mark Twain who wrote about his observations in The Innocents Abroad, and Marquis de Sade who wrote, "I have never seen anything more striking." I think you'll find that you agree with him after you check out a few photos after the jump.