None of these photos were taken in Vatican City

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

A collection of 25 photos has been shared repeatedly on Facebook and Korean online portal Naver alongside a claim they show an underground gallery in Vatican City. The claim is false: none of the photos were taken in Vatican City; they in fact show so-called “dark tourism” locations across the world such as the Catacombs of Paris, Capela dos Ossos in Portugal and Sedlec Ossuary in Czech Republic.

The photos were shared here on Facebook on February 21, 2021. The post has been shared more than 120 times and has garnered more than 140 likes.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, captured on March 12, 2021.

The post’s Korean-language caption translates to English as: “These show under the Vatican. Do you still think this is merely a conspiracy?”

Identical images were also shared on Facebook here and here and on Naver blog here and here.

However, the claim is false. Reverse image searches found all the photos from the posts were not taken in Vatican City. They in fact show so-called “dark tourism” locations across the world.

The Catacombs of Paris

A reverse image search on Google found that two of 25 photos posted in the misleading Facebook post show the Catacombs of Paris, which are underground ossuaries in Paris, France. The site features the remains of more than six million people in a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone quarries.

Screenshot comparison between the photo in the misleading Facebook post(L) and the original image(R).

The photo of a wall covered with skulls was published on the website for a French tourism information service, Paris Webservices.

Part of the caption of the photo reads: “PARIS CATACOMBS TOUR | PCA… The Catacombs encapsulate all that is mysterious and beguiling about Paris, offering a unique underground adventure unmatched by any other city.”

The image of a stack of skulls and bones was published here on August 30, 2017, by US news agency Associated Press (AP).

Screenshot comparison between the photo in the misleading Facebook post (L) and the original image from AP (R).

Part of the caption of the AP photo reads: “In this photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, skulls and bones are stacked at the Catacombs in Paris, France.”

Capela dos Ossos in Portugal

Meanwhile, four of the 25 photos seen in the misleading post were actually taken at the Capela dos Ossos in Evora, Portugal.

Screenshot comparison between photos in the misleading Facebook post (L) and the image by Atlas Obscura (R).

The two photos showing a skeleton hanging on the wall alongside the cross were published here by an online magazine and travel company Altas Obscura. 

The caption of the photo, credited to Patricia Feaster, reads: “Portugal's Chapel of Bones.”

A reverse image search found the photo showing the upper body of a skeleton published here by Lisbon-based daily Mundo Português on February 13, 2020.

The report details the country’s investment plan on the Capela dos Ossos, which is part of the programme for enhancing, conserving and promoting the historical and cultural heritage.

Screenshot comparison between photo in the misleading Facebook post (L) and the image by Mundo Português (R).

The image of human skulls and bones placed alongside a crucifix on the wall was also taken in the same place, as seen here on an online royalty-free microstock provider Dreamstime.

The caption of the photo reads: “Human skulls and bones fixed in the wall of the Chapel of Bones [Capella dos Ossos] at Alcantarilha in Silves, Portugal.”

Screenshot comparison between photo in the misleading Facebook post (L) and the image on Dreamstime (R).

Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic

Another reverse image search found that nine photos from the misleading Facebook post were taken in Sedlec Ossuary, a Catholic church in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic.

The photo of a stack of skulls in front of a small tunnel was published here on Shutterstock on May 6, 2013.

“Interior of the Sedlec ossuary [Kostnice] decorated with skulls and bones contains over 40,000 skeletons, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic,” the caption of the photo reads.

Screenshot comparison between photo in the misleading Facebook post (L) and the image on Shutterstock (R).

Three images showing a crown-shape interior ornament were also taken in the Sedlec Ossuary.

Screenshot comparison between photos in the misleading Facebook post (L) and original images (R).

A reverse image search on Google found the first image on the left top published here on a stock image website 123rf.

“Czech Republic. Kutna Hora. Skulls and bones in the ossuary in Kutna Hora,” the caption of the photo reads.

The second photo in the middle left also shows the same ornament, and was published here on Zams Gallery, a blog operated by a photographer Tracy Zams.

The photo was uploaded in a folder dubbed “Sedlec Ossuary” under the filename “sedlec105c.”

The third photo on the bottom left shows the same object, but the image was taken from a wider angle, as seen here on the stock image website Dreamstime.

Meanwhile, two photos showing a chandelier made with skulls and bones hanging from the ceiling were also taken in the same place.

Screenshot comparison between photos in the misleading Facebook post (L) and original images (R).

A Google reverse image search found the first photo on the left published here on the website of online travel agency Trip.com, where it introduced a tourism programme called “Czech Kutna Hora Human Bone Church + Santa Barbara Church Half-Day Tour.”

The second image of the chandelier in the misleading post was originally published here on Naver blog on May 26, 2018, by a South Korean blogger.

“How to go to the Bone Church in Kutna Hora… There were so many bones. Somehow spooky. They made a chandelier with bones… So odd,” reads the Korean-language text in the blog. 

Two photos showing a corridor leading to a crucifix were also not taken in Vatican CIty, but in Sedlec Ossuary.

Screenshot comparison between photos in the misleading Facebook post (L) and original images (R).

A Google reverse image search found the first photo on the top left published here on Brunch, a South Korean blogging platform, on September 20, 2020.

The caption of the photo reads: “The entrance of Sedlec Ossuary.”

The second photo on the down left was also taken from this Naver blog post, published on February 1, 2017.

“Sedlec Ossuary. A trip to The Czech Republic,” the caption reads.

Screenshot comparison between the photo in the misleading Facebook post (L) and the image published in JoongAng Ilbo (R).

The photo showing a wall full of skulls behind a steel fence was also taken in Sedlec Ossuary and originally published in this report by South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo on October 25, 2019.

The picture seen in JoongAng Ilbo’s article comes with a caption, “Sedlec Ossuary.”

Capuchin Crypt

Two other photos from the misleading Facebook posts were taken in Capuchin Crypt, a small space comprising several tiny chapels located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome, Italy.

Screenshot comparison between photos in the misleading Facebook post (L) and original images (R).

The first photo on the top left was published in this article, titled “This chapel in Rome is decorated with the bones of 4,000 Capuchin friars,” by online publication Aleteia.

The part of the articles reads: “The crypts of Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome were designed to be a constant reminder of the inevitability of death.”

The image on the left bottom was also taken in the same place from a different angle, and the original photo was published here on the Russian travel information website TySamSebeGid.ru.

The image was published under the “photo gallery # 2 - crypt” folder, with the text reading: “Crypt in Santa Maria della Conciona… The main attraction of Santa Maria della Concezione is its famous crypt.”

Skeletons encrusted in jewels and gold

Three images showing skeletons encrusted in jewels and gold were also taken in different places, not in Vatican City. 

Screenshot comparison between photos in the misleading Facebook post (L) and original images (R).

The first image of a skeleton in jewels and gold posing was published in this article by The Guardian.

The caption of the photo reads: “St Valentinus in Waldsassen, Germany, was decorated by the lay brother Adalbart Eder, and wears a biretta and an elaborate, jewelled version of a deacon's cassock, as the saint was believed to have been a deacon.”

The second photo of a skull with its eyes decorated with blue jewels was also published in the same article, with a caption: “St Benedictus in the church of St Michael, Munich.”

The third photo on the left bottom was published here in the article by Smithsonian Magazine.

The caption of the photo shows that the skull was discovered in Muri, Switzerland.

Three images are all credited to an American photographer Paul Koudounaris, who published a book in 2013 to introduce photos of bejeweled skeletons, according to The Guardian.

Kaplica Czaszek

Two other photos seen in the misleading Facebook post were in fact taken at Kaplica Czaszek, or known as Skull Chapel in English, in an ossuary chapel located in Poland.

Screenshot comparison between photos in the misleading Facebook post (L) and images published by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (R).

The first image showing a small room surrounded by walls covered with bones and a crucifix in the centre was published here on a photo sharing website Flickr by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The second photo showing a sculpture kept in a wall covered with bones and skulls was also published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland on Flickr.

Skeleton holding up a heart

Screenshot comparison between the photo in the misleading Facebook post (L) and the image in Flickr (R).

The photo showing a skeleton looking up a heart-shaped object was taken in the Church of Saint Etienne in Bar-le-Duc, France, shared here on Flickr on July 11, 2011.

French-language caption of the photo translates to English as: “Rene de Chalon's heart monument. ‘Memento mori tomb’, the ‘Transi de René de Chalons’ by Ligier Richier, in the Church of Saint Etienne in Bar-le-Duc, France.”

The same skeleton can also been seen in Google Maps of the Church of Saint Etienne.

Golden skeleton in armour and sword

Screenshot comparison between the photo in the misleading Facebook post (L) and the image taken by Dbu (R).

The image of a golden skeleton in full armour holding a sword shows a relic from the Holy Catacombs of Pancratius. 

The picture is credited to an online user Dbu who took it at an exhibition at the Historical Museum St. Gallen in Wil, Switzerland: Prince Abbey of St. Gall, on March 13, 2006.

The image also tallies with this photo by photographer Paul Koudounaris from a CNN report in June 2015. The photo caption reads: “St. Pancratius in Wil, Switzerland was dressed as a Roman soldier in 1672. Artisans added the armor suit in the 18th century.”

Skull stack

Screenshot comparison between the image in the misleading Facebook post (L) and the photo in Tripsavvy (R).

The photo showing a stack of skulls in what appears to be a cave was in fact taken at Chiesa Rupestre San Michele delle Grotte, a historical landmark in Gravina in Puglia, Italy.

The image was published here in this article by a travel site Tripsavvy on March 6, 2019. It is credited to a former Tripsavvy journalist Martha Bakerjian.

The article, titled “The Spookiest Places in Italy,” reads in part: “Skeletons, Catacombs, and Guided Visits Italy's most famous catacombs are the catacombs outside Rome on the old Appian Way. Select Italy's Appia Antica guided tour includes a visit to one of the catacombs and the Tomb of Cecilia Metella.”

A photo published here by American online travel agency Tripadivor, but taken from a different angle, also confirms that the image seen in the misleading Facebook post was taken at Chiesa Rupestre San Michele delle Grotte.

Screenshot of the Tripadvisor website with location circled in red by AFP, taken on March 19, 2021.