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  • Cecilia Clark

Chapel of the Bones, Évora, Portugal: November 2 & 3, 2023

Updated: Jan 18

From Seville it was an easy drive to Évora, Portugal. After checking into our lodging we walked to the the Church of São Francisco (St. Francis) and the adjoining Chapel of the Bones.

I have visited ossuaries before, but Chapel of the Bones is unlike any other I've seen. Here the skulls of at least 5,000 people and their related bones were used to decorate, mosiac style, the walls and ceilings of the Chapel. The explanation of how and why use "bone decor" is a little sketchy. The explanation provided by the Chapel says the bones and skulls were "brought from burial areas associated with the convent." Other sources say that in the 16th century, Evora was surrounded by either 5, or 42, or 43 cemeteries and someone felt the land was way too valuable to be ceded to the dead.

Faced with piles and piles of newly accumulated building materials, the monks decided to decorate the walls of their new chapel with bones as a PSA (public service announcement) on the transience of life. The Chapel was completed in the 17th century. The ceiling frescos are from the early 19th century.

The words above the entrance to the Chapel of Bones say "Nos Ossos Que Aqui Estamos Pelos Vossos Esperamos" which means "We, the bones that are here, await yours."

The first Franciscans arrived in Évora in 1224 but barely a trace of the early Gothic church remains. The present Church of São Francisco (St. Francis) was restored to functionality after it was extensively renovated in 2014. The walls are unpainted and the the serene altarpieces provide the only color in the sanctuary.

A sudden downpour interrupted our walk in Évora so we didn't do much more exploring.

Évora is an interesting and unforgettable place definitely worth a stop. The restaurants are quite good. We stayed at the comfortable ADC-Albergaria do Calvario which has onsite parking.


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