Tag Archives: Order

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.

The Real Dracula

Who was the real Dracula?  Is it this guy trying to bite Diane?

Guy in cheesy Count Dracula costume with fake teeth and blood pretending to bite Diane's neck

Is this the Real Dracula?

The man known as Dracula was born in 1431 in Sighisoara (pronounced ‘siggy-schwa-ra’), a town that we visited in Transylvania.  Dracula (Vlad III) was named after his father Vlad II, a commander of the mountain passes between Transylvania and Wallachia. His mother was Princess Ceneajna of Moldavia.  His father lived at Str Muzeului 6 near the clock tower, which is probably where Dracula was born.

Three story corner house on main square painted golden yellow

Dracula’s Birthplace

Dracula’s birthplace is now a tourist restaurant and coffee shop.

Diane seated at a table with small lamp, orange wall, with coffee in white cup

Diane enjoying coffee in Vlad Dracul’s House

In the year of Vlad III’s birth (the son), Vlad II (the father) traveled to Nuremburg and was vested into the Order of the Dragon, a society with the goal of protecting Christianity in Europe and defending it against the Ottoman Turks. The Order of the Dragon was founded by Sigismund of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor and king of what later became Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia. Afterwards Vlad II was known by the nickname Vlad Dracul (meaning ‘dragon’).  Like his Dad, Vlad III was also initiated into this Order at age 5.  Young Vlad became known as Dracula (‘son of the Dragon’) after his father.

In 1436, Vlad II Dracul became Voivode (King) of Wallachia, making Vlad III (Dracula) a Prince. His rule didn’t last long and he was overthrown in 1442 by rival factions in league with Hungary, but regained his thrown with support from the Ottomans (Turkish Muslims) in return for agreeing to pay the Jizya (a tax on non-Muslims).  In addition, he was required to send his two sons Vlad III (Dracula) and Radu to the Ottoman court to serve as hostages to ensure his loyalty, a common practice in those days to ensure that people lived up to their commitments.  There Vlad Dracula probably observed the Turks using torture and other techniques of terror, which he would later use against them.

Vlad Dracula grew and became a three-time Voivode of Wallachia, ruling mainly from 1456 to 1462.  This was a period of growing attacks on the Balkans by the Ottomans.  As a member of the Order of the Dragon, Vlad III spent much of his life battling against the Ottoman Empire and the expansion of Islam.  In order to discourage them, he began the practice of impaling his enemies and allowing them to die slowly.  He developed a reputation for excessive cruelty which was renowned across Europe.  The total number of his victims is estimated in the tens of thousands.   As a result of his practice of skewering his enemies, Vlad was later dubbed Vlad Țepeș  (Vlad the Impaler).

Black and white image of man with long hair and mustache, hat with raised insignia in front

Vlad the Impaler

Vlad was the inspiration for Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror novel Dracula.  There is no evidence that the real Dracula drank blood, could change into animal forms, or was undead.  Stoker knew just enough Romanian history to make the connection with Vlad Dracula and Transylvania undoubtedly seemed like such an exotic place for the home of his main character.

We also visited Bran Castle, which claims to have a connection to Dracula, one which is tenuous one at best.  Still, it was an interesting castle to visit given its position, history, and design (many small rooms linked by twisting staircases and passageways).  The Castle has displays about its own history, that of Vlad Dracula, plus information about vampires and strigoi (Romanian poltergeists, evil souls of the dead born again with the ability to change into animals, become invisible, and to drain the vitality of victims via blood loss – sound familiar?).

Castle above trees.  1 tower.  Grey with reddish roof.

Dracula’s Castle?

Vlad III Dracula was murdered at the age of 45 in the year 1476.  His head was taken to Constantinople as a trophy, and his body was buried unceremoniously, but his memory and his descendants live on.  Vlad Dracula is an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth.  Mary of Teck, a descendant of Vlad the Impaler, joined the British Royal Family in 1893 upon her marriage to His Royal Highness Prince George, Duke of York, who later became King George V in 1910. In October 2011, Prince Charles publicly claimed that genealogy proves that he is a distant relative of the real Dracula.