Tag Archives: church

Capuchin Crypt

One of the most shocking things on our trip thus far was a visit to the crypt under the church  Santa Maria della Concerzione dei Cappunccini in Rome.  I’ve seen human bones before, but nothing like this.  Sue and Martin had strongly suggested that we go see this atypical attraction, so we made a point of tracking it down, but didn’t know what to expect.  We were amazed.

The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M.Capuchin) is an order of friars in the Roman Catholic Church, an offshoot of the Franciscan monks.  The Order arose in the early 16th Century when a Franciscan friar was inspired to return to the lifestyle of their founder, St. Francis of Assisi.  Originally persecuted by their superiors, they were granted refuge by another order of monks and adopted their hooded habit (capuccio) from which their name Capuchin derives.

Present-day Capuchin Friars (source: blog Stumbling After Francis)

Due to their visual similarity, both the Capuchin monkey (hooded appearance) and cappuccino coffee (the shade of brown of the friar’s habits) were named after this order of friars.

Capuchin monkey with the brow of his ‘hood’ showing

The Capuchin friar’s life is one of extreme austerity, simplicity, and poverty, following the ideals of St. Francis.  Their chief work is to preach among the poor, impressing them with their devotion, and the poverty and austerity of their lifestyles. Neither the friars nor their monasteries should possess anything, not should any provisions be laid down for future.  Everything should be obtained by begging, and the friars were not even allowed to touch money. Today there are still over 10,000 Capuchin friars and a female branch of the Order called the Capuchin Poor Clares, whose life is so austere that they are also known as The Suffering Sisters.

On our last day in Rome we visited the Capuchin Crypt.  When Capuchin friars arrived at the church in 1631, they brought 300 cartloads of their deceased brethren with them.  Their bones were arranged in 5 small crypts under the church, not as complete skeletons or as simple groupings of similar bones, but in decorative patterns!  The friars also brought sufficient soil all the way from Jerusalem for the floors of the crypts to bury their newly dead.  When someone died, they exhumed the bones of the one who had been buried the longest (typically 30 years) to make room for the new body.  The exhumed bones were added to the decoration, which includes amazing artistic creations (including light fixtures) made from the human bones of approximately 4000 people!

Crypt of The Skulls

The Catholic church explains that the display is not meant to be macabre, but to remind people of how short life is, a powerful message regardless of one’s religious leanings.  On the ceiling of the Crypt of the Three Skeletons there is a skeleton holding a scythe, a reminder that death will cut us all down, and a set of scales, implying that we will all be judged.

Crypt of the Three Skeletons

What you are now, we used to be.  What we are now, you will be.   – plaque in the Capuchin Crypt

Note – Photos are prohibited in the crypt so the images above were scrounged from Google image search.

Down to our Last Złoty

Many countries in Europe are part of the Eurozone, a monetary union of 17 European Union (EU) member states (a subset of the total number of 27) that have adopted the Euro as their sole legal currency.  Some members of the EU are not members of the Eurozone, including several that we’ll be traveling to.  This requires us to purchase or convert to a new currency in each country, with the associated effort of buying or converting upon arrival and spending or converting upon departure.  This was a constant headache when traveling in Africa, where currency exchange often had to be done in an open air, risk laden free-for-all in the ‘no man’s land’ between border crossings.  It less hassle but still an inconvenience when traveling through non-Eurozone countries.  To make things simpler, we often try to spend all of our remaining currency before leaving a country if we won’t be returning or needing that currency at a later date.

This is exactly what we tried to do in the south of Poland, before crossing into Slovakia.  Poland’s currency is the złoty.  In Polish, it literally means ‘golden’.  We needed some groceries and we had exactly 38 złoty and 75 grosze to our collective names.  Each grosze is 1/100th of a złoty (like pennies to a dollar or pence to a pound).  This converts to $12.02 Canadian at current rates. Not a lot for grocery shopping, but enough to pick up some needed items.

We headed in to a Carrefour Market with our iPhone calculator in hand and with the objective of buying groceries adding up to but not exceeding our remaining złoty.  It’s kind of like the final showcase of the long-running game show The Price is Right.  To win you need to get as close as possible without going over your remaining cash.  Note that this shopping game is much easier to play in Europe because there is no added sales tax.

Diane started picking out things and I dutifully added the value of each to our running total.  Shopping in Poland is not without its challenges due to the fact there is no English, French, nor typically even German on the packaging.  Sometimes it’s a bit of a guessing game.  When in doubt we try to ask for help, but of course the staff don’t usually speak any English either.  We were trying to buy some peirogis (the Polish spelling of what we normally spell as ‘perogy’).  Diane wanted the ones with potato filling, but in Poland they are often filled with cabbage or mushrooms or meat, so she wanted to be sure.  She asked the young lady who was serving them, but despite their best efforts to communicate, nothing was getting through.  I offered the word “kartoffel” which is German for potato, in hopes that she might speak some German or that the word might be similar in Polish.  No luck.  Apparently potato is ‘ziemniak’ in Polish.

Diane went to the produce section and returned with a potato, pointed at the peirogis and then pointed at the potato in her hand.  The young woman shook her head, implying that none of them involved potatoes.  She went away for a while and in a short time returned with another young woman who spoke a tiny bit of English.  We said that we wanted potato peirogis and she spoke to the other woman in Polish.  By now there were also 2 other staff looking on to our spectacle.  The other woman answered her in Polish and pointed.  It turns out that potato peirogis here are called ‘Rosyjski’ peirogis (pronounced ‘ros-yis-kee’) meaning ‘Russian’.  Problem solved.

Things got added and removed from the cart as we tried to get the most important things we needed with the right combined price.  In the end, I lost track of the total, but I knew we were in the ballpark.  Diane had two cans of tuna that were optional, so we went to the till with the intention of watching the display as the other items were totaled, and then adding the cans of tuna fish one by one if required to get closer to our total budget.  If we were over, I was prepared to sacrifice the bananas.

And so, after all of this, here is the result.  This is what $12.02 CAD worth of złotys will buy you in southern Poland.

The food we purchased displayed on the table of our motorhome

What you can buy for 38.75 złoty

  • 2 small loaves of bread
  • 0.5 kg (1 lb.) of Gouda cheese
  • 0.5 (1 lb.) of cured, salty ham
  • Approximately 30 Russian perogies
  • 1 Litre of Coke Light
  • 2 bananas
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 8 rolls of toilet paper, and
  • 1 can of tuna fish (for good measure)

We think that this is significantly more than $12 would buy in Canada.

We had 1 złoty ‘and change’ left over (a strange expression given that the złoty, like the Canadian Loonie, is itself a coin).  We deposited our final złoty and groszy in the donation box by the door of one of the Wooden Churches of Southern Lesser Poland.

Church with tower all made of wood

A Wooden Church of Southern Lesser Poland

The interior was amazing.

Photo taken from rear balcony of a church with a carved wood interior that is hand painted

The ornate carved wood interior is hand painted

We headed to Slovakia ‘złoty-less’.

Feeling the Spirit

We arrived in Nairobi twelve hours ago. Our flight from Amman, Jordan was uneventful, though the connection in Cairo was rushed. We were met at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by Diane’s Aunt Norma and her husband Wayne at 4:00 AM. Norma and Wayne have lived in Kenya on and off for the last four years. Wayne works five weeks on and five weeks off in the oil fields of Kazakhstan, and returns to Kenya to be with Norma, and their children, six of whom are from Kenya. They drove us back to their house, where we had tea, a thirty minute nap, and a shower. Then we headed to church.

Norma and Wayne attend Miracle Restoration Center, a Pentecostal Church located in the Nairobi slum of Sinai known as Lunga Lunga. We drove down dusty dirt roads lined with tin roofed shacks, clogged with people going about their early morning activities. The church is an open concrete building with a tin roof, which opens onto a courtyard shared with children playing, men baking bread, and a stream of raw sewage that you have to step over to enter the church.

The church has bare concrete floors, and is outfitted with plastic patio chairs in neat rows. Everyone was dressed up, with the women in skirts or dresses, and the men in shirts and ties or jackets. We had on our best clothes, but once again, felt under dressed compared to the local people.

Services were in English, with translation to Swahili after each phrase. Bible study, led by Diane’s Aunt Norma, was to start at 9:00 AM, but got started later, as people started to slowly filter into the church on Africa time. Services got underway around 10:30, with the congregation singing, accompanied by a small band, with an excellent guitar player.

One of my favourite parts was when the children got up to dance. Norma and Wayne’s girls Lizzie (8) and Joyce (12), who are members of the church’s children’s dance squad, did African dancing to two songs. Joyce was a soloist dancer for most of the first song, performing with natural ability and charisma far beyond her years. Joyce has malaria. Lizzie and Joyce’s mother died one month ago after a lengthy illness. Their grandfather couldn’t care for them, asked the church to assist, and Norma and Wayne stepped up.

At one point during the service, the pastor’s wife announced Diane and I as special guests, and called us up to the front to speak. Patrick told the congregation that we’d been in Kenya for eight hours, and that we were very glad to be here. Each phrase with translated to Swahili, and people smiled and clapped. It was clear that Diane was expected to speak, but she was overcome with emotion, and just got out one sentence before breaking into tears.

Pastor Laz, a Kenyan, gave a heartfelt sermon, full of passion and conviction. Part way through, the electricity went out, but he and the translator kept right on, speaking louder and with even more conviction. It was a powerful and moving experience.

This was the longest church service we’ve ever attended – it didn’t end until after 2 PM. We were both moved to tears at various points. We have not been saved, but today, in an open-air church in a slum near Nairobi, we felt the Spirit.

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai is in the center of the Sinai Peninsula, in eastern Egypt, which is located between Cairo and Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. It is a famous mountain for many historical reasons, and is where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Mt. Sinai is about 7000 feet high, similar to the tip of Blackcomb mountain.

We wanted to climb the mountain at night, to see the sunrise from the top. After spending the day wandering the beaches of Dahab, we left at 11 PM on a minibus with about ten other people who were crazy enough to do the same. They included a family of three from Mauritius, a couple of guys from Japan, one from Korea, two women from somewhere in Europe, and an Egyptian dentist.

We arrived at the trail head at about 1 AM. It was pitch black and bitterly cold. We brought every piece of clothing we had with us, each bringing two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, two shirts, our fleece jackets, windbreakers, fleece hats, and gloves. Diane also brought a sweater. Collectively, they weren’t enough.

Our group had a Bedouin guide, who led us up the wide smooth trail in complete darkness. We were constantly adjusting layers as the group wound its way up into the darkness.

Some tourists choose to accept the offers of local Bedouins, and ride their camels up the trail. The temperature was close to freezing, and sitting still for any length of time seemed unimaginable. Camels have large soft padded feet, and are virtually silent in the darkness. Their approach is heralded only by their strong smell, and the occasional grunt or fart, at which point we hugged the cliff to give them passage.

The Egyptian dentist was in trouble almost from the beginning, having difficulty keeping up with the group. Within 30 minutes, the European girls had taken his pack and shared its contents between them. He spoke good English and Arabic, and was able to communicate with the guide, who spoke no English. As the incline steepened, he began to fall behind, In the darkness, we heard frequent cries of complaint in Arabic, imploring the guide to slow down. Diane and I had no trouble with the pace, and Diane’s sprained ankle was not a problem.

About half way up, the ground was covered with snow. Our trail runners held up well, but weren’t really the best footwear for the conditions. We hiked upwards through the snow, passing tea houses along the way.

The last twenty minutes to the summit are composed of 750 stone steps. These are the uppermost of 3700 stone steps making up an alternate trail, which comes up from the other side of the mountain. These Steps of Repentance were built by single monk as an act of redemption. We were the first party to reach this point. The steps were steep, and were covered with ice and snow. We still had about an hour before sunrise, and the guide recommended that we stop at the last tea house to wait, not only to try to stay warm, but perhaps to let another group break trail.

The tea house was built into the cliff face, consisting of rock walls and a wood and tarp roof, with stones on top. It was dark and cramped, lit by a single kerosene lamp. We squeeze in, and huddled together for warmth. Egyptian tea, for which Egyptians pay less than 1 Egyptian Pound in the cities, was available for 10 Egyptian Pounds (an exorbitant price, but more understandable given that both the water and fuel to heat it had to be carried up the mountain by the proprietor). Diane and I rented a blanket for 20 Egyptian Pounds (about $5 Canadian), which was highway robbery, but necessary given that we were no longer moving to stay warm.


After about thirty minutes, we climbed the last three minutes to the summit, as the sky was colouring. On the summit was an old church, made of rock on the exposed summit. We shared the sunrise with several other groups, who had each made the climb during the night. The majority were religious groups, making their pilgrimages to this holy site. The Russians sang as the sun rose.


After about an hour on the summit, we hiked down past St. Katherine’s monastery, probably the oldest continually operating Christian site.  The Roman empress Helena had a shrine built here in 330 AD, near the bush where they believed that God spoke to Moses.

The next day, on the bus to the departure point of the ferry for Aqaba, we met an Australian who had made the climb a couple of days before. Near the start of the steps, he pulled his calf, and was unsure if he would be able to complete the climb. Luckily there was also a doctor climbing near by, who diagnosed it was a calf pull, and not an Achilles tear. She gave him 2 pain killers, and said that he could continue if he could stand the pain. He made it to the top, and on the way down, he road a camel as soon as he reached the part of the trail that they could traverse. On the bus, he told us that both he and Moses had climbed Mt. Sinai, and that they both received 2 tablets!