Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), Evora, Portugal

 

 

The Capela dos Ossos is one of the best known monuments in Évora. It is a small interior chapel located next to the entrance of the Church of St. Francis. The Chapel gets its name because the interior walls are covered and decorated with human skulls and bones. The Capela dos Ossos was built in the 16th century by a Franciscan monk who, in the Counter-Reformation spirit of that era, wanted to prod his fellow brothers into contemplation and transmit the message of life being transitory, a very common spirituality theme summed up in the motto memento mori. This is clearly shown in the famous warning at the entrance Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos (“We bones that here are, for yours await"). Its walls and eight pillars are decorated in carefully arranged bones and skulls held together by cement. 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. Two desiccated corpses, one of which is a child, dangle from ropes. And at the roof of chapel, the phrase "Melior est die mortis die nativitatis (Better is the day of death than the day of birth)" (Ecclesiastes, 7, 1) from Vulgate is written.

 

We visited the chapel after someone telling us about it, before that we had no idea it was there or that there was anything like it in Portugal. There is a small charge to enter but it is worth it to see the macarbe chapel.