Portugal — Staring at destiny in Evora’s Chapel of Bones.

posted in: Travel Destinations | 2

skulls bones in evora bone chapelWhen you think about how to reuse human bones (and who doesn’t?), there are three ways that often come to mind:

  1. Grind them to make your bread.
  2. String them around your neck (vertebrae are perfect for this).
  3. Build a place of worship.

Apparently the 16th century monks of Evora, Portugal where neither giants nor warriors, so they chose the third option. And for about two euros, you can see their glorious creation at the Capela Dos Ossos — Chapel of Bones — at Evora’s Church of St. Francis.

We arrived just as they shut down for siesta — a pretty common ritual in Portugal. So we plodded around town, wandering the narrow alleys, lunching on pork and white sangrias, enjoying the warm fall weather.

entrance chapel of bones
Welcome with a warning: Your bones are next.

Back at the chapel, we paid our admission and walked under an arching doorway with “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos” written across the top. This translates to: “We bones that are here, we are waiting for yours.”

Alrighty, then.

The chapel is small and dimly lit. Skulls and femurs are locked together in grisly, cement columns supporting the vaulted ceiling. The walls are built the same way, and in one corner the body of a child and a small adult hang as if an afterthought. A sickly yellow light blinks on and off every few seconds highlighting the hanging adult. Not the cheeriest place to seek enlightenment.

The monks who founded this, thought otherwise. Apparently, the chapel was a partial solution to freeing up valuable real estate when monastic cemeteries became overcrowded. The monks felt that by displaying the bones, they would create a place to contemplate the transitory nature of life.

Julie was notably disturbed. I took one last look around the room, and then we walked hand-in-hand out into the October sun.

bones evora chapel
Come on, cheer up! You’re in a church.

Capela dos Ossos

Creepy insight into medieval thinking.


How to get there:

The Chapel of Bones is attached to the Church of St. Francis in the old town of Evora, Portugal.


Church of St. Francis (Igreja de São Francisco)

Praça 1 de Maio, 7000-650 São Pedro, Évora, Portugal

2 Responses

    • Scott Lunt

      Portugal is a beautiful country, with too much to see and not enough time. It sounds like you got to see more of Lisbon than we did. We want to hear more about your trip. It’s too bad we weren’t able to link up. I think we were probably stuck in Passport Control while you guys were arriving at the airport.

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