Italy’s bigger cities, especially Rome, have plenty of churches to please those with morbid fascinations for skulls, skeletons, and saintly relics. Taken together, these churches and their contents provide a sort-of museum feel — creepy but not altogether isolating.
So when you encounter a house of worship like the Church of Purgatorio in Terracina, the effect is much more bizarre. Imagine being a resident of this town in 1780, the year this church was built. A large skeleton adorns the upper front of the well-worn facade; he holds a banner that reads “HODIE MIHI CRAS TIBI” (“Today, it’s me. Tomorrow, it’s you”).
Inside the church, there are more skeletons. On the outside of the confessional boxes are skulls. Meanwhile, circling the walls and decorating the dome are bones in all sorts of poses and skulls and crossbones as decorative motifs. It’s beautiful and strange and just the sort of place I love to happen upon when I am traveling through Italy.
Terracina is a seaside town south of Rome, known more for the Temple of Giove Anxur which sits dramatically on a cliff above the city beaches. Head into Terracina’s historic center, to the Via del Purgatorio, to get a glimpse of the Church of Purgatorio and other Roman and medieval treasures.
Last Updated: May 8, 2021