The Capuchin monks are an order of monks originally regarded as a subset of the Franciscans. Today, the Capuchins are recognized as their own distinct order, with a mission and way of life separate from that of the Franciscans. Capuchin monasteries can be found in several regions of the world, although the numbers of Capuchin monks are shrinking, as are members of many other monastic orders. Capuchin nuns, incidentally, are known as Capuchines.
The origins of the Capuchin monks lie in the 1500s, when several members of the Franciscan order felt that the Franciscans had departed from their original mission. They formed an offshoot which focused on living a very austere monastic life, which they felt was more true to the original intent of becoming a monk. Initially, the Capuchin monks were persecuted, but ultimately they were allowed to form their own order and charter.
These monks are named for their distinctive pointed hoods; cappuccino means “pointed cowl” in Italian. The Capuchin monks believe in living as simply as possible. Neither monks nor monastery are allowed to own property, and the monks are expected to beg and rely on charity for all of their needs, never keeping more than a few days worth of food at any given time. The Capuchin monks focus heavily on missionary and preaching service, spreading the word of God as they travel.
One of the more remarkable achievements of the Capuchin marks is the Santa Maria della Concezione, the Capuchin church in Rome. The church is decorated with the bones of over 4,000 Capuchin monks, arranged in ornate patterns which line the walls. Several skeletons have also been kept intact and robed, and they can be found in several niches around the church. Visitors to the church are often struck by the elaborate nature of the designs, as well as the slightly macabre feel of the church.
While the idea of decorating a church with bones might seem a bit odd, this practice has actually been observed in other parts of the world as well. Several European churches are heavily ornamented with the bones of deceased religious officials and community members, reflecting attitudes about the nature of death at the time that the macabre decorations were installed. For the Capuchins, a visit to the site is an opportunity to contemplate one's remaining time on Earth, and a chance to pledge to do further good works before dying.