Brno's Capuchin Crypt
Like other Capuchin Crypts in the world (such as in Palermo
’s version is a prime dark site of the category
“death on display
”. Several semi-mummified bodies can be viewed down here, plus some death-related artwork, all in the cellar underneath a monastery.
More background info: Brno
’s Capuchin monastery was founded sometime in the 17th century; the practice of “burying” deceased friars without the use of coffins by just placing them in the basement, allegedly has to do with the order’s principles of simplicity and poverty.
The fact that many bodies naturally mummified, without being embalmed, was not intended but is apparently due to the soil and ventilation of the cellars. Until this practice of open burial was banned under the reign of Austrian
emperor Joseph II in the late 18th century, just over 200 bodies were placed here. Not all of them mummified; the remains of those who decomposed were later interred in a collective tomb, but over 40 bodies were preserved and remain on display.
The crypt was opened to the public in 1925 and has become a well-known tourist sight since.
What there is to see: There are several basement rooms or halls beneath the monastery. The first one you reach at the bottom of the stairs is the chapel.
It is dominated by a single grand silk-lined glass coffin flanked by four tall candles. Bedded within it is an almost black body, the semi-mummified skull sinking into the corpse, and it’s not easy to tell whether that body is also semi-mummified or clad in black clothing. This is Frederik Baron von Trenck, a military officer with a chequered life story who ended up here in the mid-18th century and became one of the best-known of the bodies in this crypt.
Also in the chapel is the reliquary of St Clementiane, apparently a Roman noblewoman whose remains and glass coffin with a wax face was moved here sometime last century. There are many inscriptions on the walls and also several paintings and frescoes, mostly revolving around the topic of death. Information panels provide some background information, some come with English translations – and you can also borrow a laminated info folder in English from the ticket office which you have to return at the end of your tour.
You then pass through a couple more chambers until you come to the undoubtedly most visually impressive highlight of it all: the hall where twenty semi-mummified bodies of Capuchin friars lie in the open behind a barred gate. They are lying on their backs on the bare floor with their arms folded across their chests and their heads resting on bricks. They wear loin cloths and a couple also have hoods on their heads, which makes them look even more spooky. While some have fairly well preserved dried skin, others have missing feet and some exposed bones are visible. It’s easy to get carried away and over-interpret the various facial “expressions” of the better-preserved bodies.
There’s also a smaller side chamber where four more Capuchin bodies are lying on the floor underneath a cross on the wall.
The remaining chambers and halls contain various coffins and the tomb with the remains of those friars whose bodies did not naturally mummify. There’s also an urn with ashes and a panel explains that originally there was an ossuary here with bones and skulls decorating the walls – in the manner of the St James Ossuary
perhaps – but that these were taken down in the 1990s, cremated and entombed here instead.
Some of the coffins on display have glass tops so you can see yet more bodies, again some fairly well preserved. Text panels provide some information as to who the deceased were.
Amongst these are several who were not Capuchin friars but in particular people referred to as “benefactors”, that is individuals who one way or another supported the Capuchin brotherhood. Closed coffins are also on display, some bearing elaborate paintings.
You might think that going to see such dead on display would be too gruesome for many, especially children – but, interestingly, amongst the other visitors when I was there were lots of families with small kids who did not in any way seem spooked or frightened by what they were looking at. So one should perhaps not underestimate the appeal of dark-tourism attractions also to the very young!
All in all I would say that the Capuchin Crypt is the most important and certainly grimmest of Brno’s dark attractions. Definitely not to be missed.
underneath the Capuchin monastery on Capuchin Square, which is between the main street of Brno
’s Old Town, Masarykova, and the Vegetable Market Square, just a short stroll from the main train station.
Access and costs: centrally located and quite easy to find; inexpensive
Easily walkable from anywhere in or near the Old Town heart of Brno
. The Capuchin monastery is just off the main through road of the Old Town, Masarykova, and just south of the large Vegetable Market Square. The way to the crypt is signposted beside the main stairs to the church above. And after you’ve navigated a narrow passageway and smaller courtyard you come to the entrance.
Opening times: from April to October Monday to Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 12 noon as well as between 1 and 6 p.m., Sundays between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.; in winter the crypt opens an hour later and closes an hour earlier, except Sundays when it’s open from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (last admission half an hour before closing).
Admission: 80 CZK, some concessions apply for students, seniors and persons with disabilities, who pay only half – note, though, that due to several steps the site is not wheelchair-accessible.
A photo permit costs an extra 30 CZK
Time required: about half an hour
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Brno
Thematically and also by location, the best combination is obviously the Ossuary of St James
less than a ten-minute walk away to the north.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Since the Capuchin Crypt is so centrally located, most other attractions of Brno
are within easy reach, including the Old Town Hall and the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, which are both just steps away.
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 01 - outside with the church above the crypt
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 02 - glass coffin
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 03 - glass coffin occupant
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 04 - more glass-topped coffins
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 05 - another occupant
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 06 - mummies under the cross in a side chamber
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 07 - main mummy hall
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 08 - row of semi-preserved mummies
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 09 - heads rest on bricks
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 10 - hooded mummy
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 11 - coffin chamber
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 12 - coffin with a crucifixion scene painted on it
- Brno Capuchin Crypt 13 - three-pronged Mr Death