October 17, 2002

Remembering Rome
The "Church of 40,000 Bones" as my friend called it was actually Santa Maria della Conceizione. Here, not quite entombed, were over 4,000 monks who donated their bones as the raw material for macabre decorations that illustrate biblical imagery as well as the brevity of life. (For example, the sacred heart with a crown of thorns adorns the walls via a unique combination of bones.) When I read about this place I imagined it much more dark and dreary, a Halloweenish place. But I thought it was about as cheerful as you could make it, especially if you forgot for a minute the archway decorations were bones. The message is the "as you are/ so was I/ as I am/ so shall you be" and is intended to give a sense of urgency in the spiritual life. The psalmist asks in Psalm 30 what profit is there in his death - "Will the dust praise you?" and I thought this place really tried to have these dusty bones praise God by showing the faith of these holy monks had in not fearing death but by taunting it and saying "where is thy sting?".

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