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

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

The context:

Several photos of walls adorned with skulls, bones and even human skeletons are being shared online to claim they show the catacombs of the Vatican or Vatican City, which is the seat of the Pope and the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. The text of the message, which contains seven of these photos, indicates that soon the throne seat of the Antichrist, decorated with bones and skulls, will also be displayed. The insinuation is that the display of these human remains is part of the dark practices of the Vatican. Some people in the comments section went on to say that the Vatican is an institution full of evil.

In reality:

By performing a reverse search on each photo, we found that none of them were related to Vatican City or its catacombs. The photos are from different chapels and are displayed with a fake effect.

Two of the photos show an entire skeleton dressed in clothes similar to those worn by monks and holding a cross. We came across these two images on Getty Images and were from the crypt in the museum of the Capuchin Convent of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rome. The caption for the images further explained that these two remains were the mummies of Capuchin monks. The photos are attributed to Giorgio Cosulich of Getty Images and were taken when the museum opened in June 2012. Inspired by this, we researched this convent and came across an article from the 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 meant to be a reminder of death. According to an article by Atlas Obscure, an American online travel magazine, in 1631 the Capuchin friars were ordered to bring the remains of their deceased brothers with them when they left their home convent in Rome. , near the Trevi Fountain. Rather than simply burying the remains, they chose to decorate the walls of the crypts with the bones to remind them of the transience of life and the imminence of death. The Capuchin Friars are a religious order within the Franciscan Order of Friars, belonging to the Roman Catholic order, who lead a simple 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 a skeleton hanging on top of it. This photo turned out to be of the Chapel of Bones (Capelo dos Ossos) in Campo Maior, Portugal. We found the same photo uploaded to Fine Art America art and photography website 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 from Campo Maior. According to the description of the video, the chapel dates from 1766 and was built in memory of the victims of the 1732 powder magazine explosion. A plaque in the chapel reads: “We the bones that are here, we await yours “.

Another photo shows two walls and a ceiling adorned with skulls, and a statue of Jesus Christ on a crucifix to one side. We discovered that this photo was uploaded by John Hallam to the Flickr photo hosting website in 2011. Hallam claimed to have taken the photo in question at the Chapel of Bones in Alcantarilha, Portugal. We also found a similar photo on the travel site 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 to Istock, also locating it as the Chapel of Bones in Alcantarilha. Finally, we found the photo on Portuguese news site The Portugal News, which also said it showed the Chapel of the Bones of Alcantarilha, attached to the parish church. The report says it is likely that the chapel, built in the 16th century, was made up of bones taken from the nearby cemetery to protect them and bring them closer to God. The sixth photo in the post also showed a similar photo to the fourth, although the crucifix appeared to be a different color. However, we found the image on a Portugal travel website, claiming to show the same chapel.

A photo that shows a wall decorated with bones, skulls, a cross and a skeleton hanging high on one side, also shows a chapel of bones in Portugal, but in Evora. According to an article from 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 Evora Chapel. Atlas Obscura reported that the decision to put the bones on the walls was made because no less than 43 cemeteries occupied valuable land and the bones needed to be moved elsewhere. Instead of burying them indoors, the monks decided to display them in the chapel to serve as a place of meditation on the transience of life. A message above this chapel door reads: “We bones, are here, waiting for yours.” The bones of 5,000 people are in this chapel, the purpose of which is clarified by a poem written by Father Antonio da Ascencao which hangs on a wall. The poem reflects on the fleeting nature of life and asks people to reflect on death and those who have passed away.

We also found a photo very similar to the final photo in Facebook’s viral Getty Images post, locating it in the Chapel of Evora. This photo shows just 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 attributed to Martin Zwick. Another photo on Alamy, which resembled part of the photo in the post, also stated that it showed the chapel in Evora. A photo hosting platform from Europe and Asia also posted the same photo from a wider angle, saying 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. Moreover, all these chapels containing and adorned with human remains were built to remind people of the transience of life or to keep people close to God. There was no dark or evil connotation attached to any of these chapels. Therefore, we have marked this claim as false.

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