Chapel of Bones or how ephemeral is life
The Chapel of Bones with its walls covered with bones and sculls, is a unique monument that makes you think about the ephemeral side of life.
Chapel of Bones or Capela dos Ossos in Portuguese is one of the creepiest yet fascinating monuments I have ever visited. Along with the Roman Temple of Evora is one of the main highlights of the lovely city of Evora.
The Chapel of Bones is situated inside the Royal Church of St. Francis that was built between 1460 and 1510 under the Gothic and Manueline styles, this unique chapel is peculiar for having its walls and central pillars covered with human skulls and other bones, held together by cement. As if this wasn’t scary enough there are also two full corpses hanging high on a wall. No one knows who they were, however there is an ancient tale stating that they are an adulterous man and his son, cursed by the betrayed wife.
Why should anyone decorate a chapel with bones you may ask? The answer is quite easy let me tell you. By the 16th century there were about 42 monastic cemeteries in Évora, occupying a considerable and valuable space as you may infer. Therefore three Franciscan monks decided to move all the bones to a new chapel, built on the site of a previous monastic dormitory. However, instead of just storing the bones they decided to take the opportunity to use them as a reminder of the inevitability of death, embracing the guidelines of the Council of Trent and the religious Counter-Reformation.
Covering the chapel’ s walls there are around 5.000 bones and skulls. Even though the popular belief states that they belong to soldiers of a battle or to plague victims, they came from the death buried in Évora’s cemeteries.
The meaning of the Chapel of Bones
The ephemeral sense of life and the path to overcome death is reinforced by the small scenes painted on the rib-vaulted ceiling and the Latin sentences that come along such as “I died in the light” or “The day I died is better than the day I was born”. The altar with a crucifix at one end also indicates that faith is the answer to conquer death.
However no sentence strikes visitors and reminds them of their immortality more than the one inscribed on the entrance arch that states:
Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos!
(“We, the bones that are here, wait for yours!”)