Rome consists of several contrasts between life and death, opulence, and decay.
The Tiber Island considered a sacred enclave across the centuries hides one of the best-kept secrets in its subterranean world, the burial crypt of the Sacconi Rossi Brotherhood.
The confraternity, whose complete name was Brotherhood of the Devotees of Jesus at Calvary and Holy Lady Mary of Sorrows in Relief of the Holy Souls in Purgatory was established in 1760. The institution was founded by young Christians to redeem souls suffering in purgatory and to support the deceased. They wore red hooded capes commonly known as the “Sacconi Rossi.”
The main goal of this charitable organization was the dignification and burial of abandoned bodies, especially people who drowned in the Tiber and went unclaimed. Their mission was carried out at night in torchlight processions.
Their headquarters was located at the Franciscan Missionary College beside the Basilica of St. Bartholomew, built above the ancient temple of Asclepius. In 1784, the community obtained permission to build a crypt in the basement to bury their deceased members.
The bones of the dead brothers were used to decorate the walls and the niches. The ossuary was regularly damaged by floods and was used until 1836. During this time, cholera had ravaged the region and the pope banned these types of burials.
French troops sent by Napoleon III to suppress the 1849 Roman Republic damaged the crypt and transformed the space into a dormitory. However, today it is still a very solemn and enigmatic vault, with the imposing presence of the skeleton attributed to a great master located in the main altar.
Despite the fact that Pope Pius IX authorized new burials in the crypt, the brotherhood almost went extinct when the Kingdom of Italy mandated that all burials happen in authorized cemeteries.
Since 1988, the Order Ospedaliero di San Giovanni di Dio Fatebenefratelli took control of the oratory and crypt to ensure its survival.
On the evening of November 2nd, visitors can join their candlelit procession that descends from the church of San Giovanni Calibita, to the banks of the Tiber to bless the waters and lay a wreath of flowers in homage to those that have drowned.
Know Before You Go
Private visits by appointment only, contact the "Fate Bene Fratelli" Hospital in Rome.