Chapel of Bones

Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos) is a small interior chapel located next to the entrance of the Church of St. Francisin, Évora, Portugal. This chapel was built by a Franciscan monk in 1460-1510, the interior walls are covered and decorated with thousands of human skulls and bones, fastened with cement. The church was built at the end of XV - beginning of XVI centuries in gothic style with the mixture of the Manueline (architectural style in Portugal in XV-XVI centuries ). From the very beginning the building had its mission: as in all countries in middle ages, in Portugal also plague and wars killed many people. As a result the cemeteries grew very fast, and soon the problem raised with storing the bones. At that time monks decided to build a chapel: old bones could be kept there at the same time showing the inevitability of death. They thought this would provide Évora, a town noted for its wealth in the early 1600s, with a helpful place to meditate on the transience of material things in the undeniable presence of death.

 Interior wall of Capela dos Ossos covered with human skulls and bones

The main Church of St. Francis is opulently decorated with golden altars and walls of painted blue tile. The Chapel of Bones is entered next door, through a large arch bearing a painted rhyme reminding visitors of their own mortality: "Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos" (“We, the bones that are here, await yours.")

The chapel itself is formed by three spans 18.7 meters long and 11 meters wide. The ceiling is made of white painted brick and is painted with death motifs. The number of skeletons of monks was calculated to be about 5000, coming from the cemeteries that were situated inside several dozen churches. Some of these skulls have been scribbled with graffiti.

Interestingly, the bones of the monks who assembled the chapel are not on display - they are kept in a small white coffin in the chapel. In addition to all the bones, there are two full corpses hanging high on a wall. Their identities are unknown, but there are plenty of legends: one popular story says they are an adulterous man and his infant son, cursed by his jealous wife.


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