Ever since I was young, the strange, the unusual, and the slightly creepy has fascinated me. So when I discovered that Evora, Portugal had a chapel decorated with thousands of human skeletons, I just had to see it in person.
The chapel is aptly named Capela dos Ossos, or the Chapel of Bones. It’s actually an interior chapel located inside the Igreja de São Francisco (Church of St. Francis), a lovely church built in the late 1400s-early 1500s.
The Chapel of Bones was built either in the 16th or 17th Century (both centuries are mentioned on signage within the chapel, so I’m not sure which is more accurate) by Franciscan Monks to relay the message of the transitory nature of life. This message comes across loud and clear from the banner written in Portuguese over the entrance to the chapel:
Nós Ossos Que Aqui Estamos Pelos Vossos Esperamos roughly translates to “We Bones That Are Here, Await Yours.” *Shudder* That was almost enough to make me turn tail and run out of there. But, as I said, this sort of thing intrigues me in a creepy kind of way. Besides, we’ve walked through the Catacombs below the streets of Paris, which was filled with way more skeletons than this chapel. So it couldn’t be that bad.
At 18.7 meters long and 11 meters wide, it’s not a very large chapel, and the three windows to the left don’t exactly make it feel light and spacious. I found it a little claustrophobic actually.
The tomb chest in the photo below belongs to the founders of the Convent.
The chapel was built as an extension of the Chapter House of the convent of São Francisco.
This is the floor tomb of Bishop Jacinto Carlos de Silveira, who died in 1808 during the invasion of Evora by Napoleonic French troops.
One of the columns in the chapel, covered with more bones:
You can see bare patches where bones fell off or where people removed them. The bones came from several church cemeteries. It’s estimated there are approximately 5000 skeletons decorating the interior of the chapel.
The paintings on the ceiling date to the 1800s. Numerous motifs include more skulls and macabre symbology.
Non Moriar Sed Vivam translates to “I Shall Not Die, But Live”. While the sentiment is slightly more uplifting, the imagery is quite the opposite.
And if that isn’t enough to darken your mood, there’s this tale:
There are two mummified bodies in the chapel which hang from ropes on the wall. One is that of a five-year old child. The story goes that an abused wife cursed her husband and son on her death bed, that when they died, the flesh would never completely fall from their bones. Unfortunately the mummies weren’t there during our visit, but there was a photo of them:
Overall the visit lasted maybe 20 minutes. It was absolutely worth visiting, but the heavy, oppressive sensation weighs a bit heavy on you for a while after you leave. So this experience is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. But I suppose the monks who created it were aiming to make people feel contemplative and thoughtful. Mission accomplished, I would say.
Address: Praça 1º de Maio 4, 7000-650 Évora, Portugal
The Capela dos Ossos is a small chapel next to the entrance of the Church of St. Francis (Igreja de Sao Francisco in Portuguese).
Children and seniors: €1.50
There is an additional €1 fee to take pictures.
The chapel is open daily from 9:00-12:50 and then from 14:30-17:45 (17:15 in winter).
For other attractions in Evora, click here for my blog post, 5 Reasons to Add Evora to Your Portugal Itinerary.