On my last trip to the Peruvian capital, Lima, I paid a visit to the Basílica y Convento de Santo Domingo and the attached museum. After a short guided tour of the bell tower and a steep climb to get a view of the skyline, I began exploring the museum by myself.
While wandering around the interesting artefacts, I came across a small doorway and set of stairs descending into darkness. I glanced up at the surrounding walls but saw no signs indicating what might be down there. But also no signs saying, ‘Do Not Enter,’ although I suppose they’d say, ‘Sin Entrada,’ or something along those lines. I looked around but couldn’t see anybody else, I seemed to be alone. Not surprising as it was late and the museum closed soon. I decided to go down and take a quick peek.
The entrance was low and narrow, and the passageway behind it was the same. So small I only just fitted, crouching as I awkwardly climbed down the stairs with both shoulders rubbing against either wall. A reminder that people were much smaller in the past, or perhaps that I needed to go on a diet. The staircase only descended ten or fifteen feet before opening out to a small underground chamber. It was a dimly lit rectangular room, but apparently part of the museum, which was a bit of a relief. At least I hadn’t just climbed into a storage cupboard.
I walked towards the opposite end of the dark room, but there wasn’t much to see, the room was empty, so I turned to go back the way I’d come. As I did, I saw what I thought was a brightly lit round window high on the back wall. It was a confusing sight and something of an optical illusion, my brain couldn’t quite make sense of it. How could there be a window there? And what was on the other side? My eyes had adjusted to the dark, but the window was so bright I couldn’t make out what was behind it. Walking closer and squinting, my eyes adjusted to the light and shapes began to emerge. It was, bones! Human bones and skulls all piled up. I was taken aback. The scene didn’t make sense.
Eventually, my brain deciphered what it was seeing. Not a window, but a mirror. A mirror angled at ninety degrees to show a hole in the top of the raised platform in front of me. Down this hole were human skeletons all mixed together. Perhaps this was the crypt. A shudder ran up my spine. I wondered how many bodies were down there? I knew the nearby Monastery of San Francisco was famous for its catacombs containing thousands of human remains. I’m not a superstitious person, but I have to admit an eerie feeling came over me. I was suddenly acutely aware I was alone in the crypt of a museum about to close for the day. Let's not use the word 'panick,' but just say after taking one quick photo, I did make my way rather briskly to the exit.
Where to find the Basilica And Convent Of Santo Domingo