False: Millions of skulls, bones and human skeletons adorn the catacombs of the Vatican.

By: Shreyashi Roy
September 22 2022

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False: Millions of skulls, bones and human skeletons adorn the catacombs of the Vatican.


The Verdict False

Photos claiming so are of various Chapels of Bones across Portugal and even a crypt of a monastery in Rome. They have nothing to do with the Vatican.

Claim ID fe708653


Several photos depicting walls adorned with human skulls, bones, and even skeletons are being shared online to claim that they show the catacombs of the Vatican or the Vatican City, which is the seat of the Pope and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. The text of the post, which has seven such photos, says that soon, the seat of the Antichrist's throne, decorated with bones and skulls, will also be displayed. The insinuation is that displaying these human remnants is part of the Vatican's dark practices. Some people in the comment section went on to say that the Vatican is an institution replete with evil.

In fact:

On conducting a reverse search on each photo, we found that none of them are relate to Vatican City or its catacombs. The photos are from different chapels and displayed together with a false spin. 

Two of the photos show an entire skeleton dressed in clothes akin to those donned by monks and holding a cross. We came across these two images on Getty Images and were of the crypt of the museum in the Capuchin convent of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rome. The caption of the images further explained that both of these remnants were the mummies of Capuchin monks. The photos are credited to Giorgio Cosulich of Getty Images and were taken at the museum's opening in June 2012. Taking a cue from this, we ran a search for this convent and came across an article by travel magazine Lonely Planet, which reported that between 1732 and 1775, Capuchin monks used the bones of 3,700 monks of their order to create this crypt, which was meant to be a reminder of death. According to an article by Atlas Obscure, an American travel online magazine, in 1631, the Capuchin friars were ordered to bring with them the remains of their dead brethren when they left their original friary in Rome, near the Trevi Fountain. Rather than just burying the remains, they chose to decorate the walls of the crypts with the bones to remind them of the fleeting nature of life and the imminence of death. Capuchin friars are a religious order within the Franciscan Order of Friars, belonging to the Roman Catholic order, who live a straightforward life of prayer, penance, and poverty. This Capuchin crypt in Rome is a popular tourist destination.

Meanwhile, one of the viral photos shows a wall of bones and skulls, with one skeleton hanging on it. This photo was found to be of the Chapel of Bones (Capelo dos Ossos) in Campo Maior, Portugal. We found the same photo uploaded on the art and photography website Fine Art America by John Hanou. Hanou claimed to have taken this photo during his visit to the chapel attached to the Mother Church of Campo Maior in 2011. We also found the same visual in a video of the chapel uploaded on YouTube by the handle of the Municipality of Campo Maior. According to the video's description, the chapel dates back to 1766 and was built in memory of the victims of the 1732 gunpowder magazine explosion. A plaque in the chapel reads: "We bones that are here, we wait for yours”.

Another photo shows two walls and a ceiling adorned with skulls, along with a statue of Jesus Christ on a crucifix on one side. We found that this photo had been uploaded by John Hallam on the photo-hosting website Flickr in 2011. Hallam claimed to have taken the photograph in question at the Chapel of Bones in Alcantarilha, Portugal. We also found a similar photo on the travel website Tripadvisor, posted by Dominique Mueret and a Dirk D in April 2016, also claiming to show the Chapel of Bones in Alcantarilha. The same photo was also uploaded on Istock, also locating it as the Chapel of Bones in Alcantarilha. Last, we found the photo on Portugal-based news website The Portugal News, which also said that it showed Alcantarilha's Chapel of Bones, attached to the parish Church. The report said that it was likely that the chapel, built in the 16th century, is made up of bones taken from the nearby cemetery to keep them protected and closer to God. The sixth photo in the post also showed a similar photo as the fourth one, although the crucifix appeared to be of a different color. However, we found the image on a Portugal travel website, claiming to show the same chapel.

A photo which shows a wall adorned with bones, skulls, a cross, and a skeleton hanging high up on one side, also shows a Chapel of Bones in Portugal, but in Evora. According to an article by Atlas Obscura, where we came across the photo, this chapel was built in the late 16th century by Franciscan monks. We also found the same image on Getty Images, credited to Craig Peterhouse who located the image at the Evora chapel. Atlas Obscura reported that the decision to put up the bones on the walls was taken because as many as 43 cemeteries were taking up valuable land, and the bones needed to be transferred elsewhere. Instead of interring them indoors, the monks decided to display them in the chapel to serve as a place to meditate on the transience of life. A message above this chapel door says: "We bones, are here, waiting for yours." The bones of 5,000 people are located in this chapel, the purpose of which is made clear by a poem written by Father Antonio da Ascencao which can be found hanging on one wall. The poem reflects on the fleeting nature of life and asks people to ponder about death and those who have passed on. 

We also found a photo very similar to final photo in the viral Facebook post on Getty Images, locating it in the Evora chapel. This photo shows just a part of a wall decorated with skulls and bones, horizontally and vertically. The photo on Getty Images showed the same wall from a different angle and was credited to Martin Zwick. Another photo on Alamy, which resembled part of the photo in the post, also said it showed the Evora chapel. An Europe and Asia photo-hosting platform also carried the same photo from a wider angle, claiming that it showed the Chapel of Bones in Evora.

The verdict:

It is clear that none of the photos in the Facebook post have any connection to the Vatican. Further, all these chapels containing and adorned with human remnants were built to remind people of the transience of life or keep people close to God. There was no dark or evil connotation attached to any of these chapels. Therefore, we have marked this claim false.

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