The Igreja Real de São Francisco (Royal Church of St. Francis) in Évora is best known for its chapel that is not for the faint of heart. In the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), the walls and central pillars are covered with human skulls and other parts of skeletons, held together by cement.
History of Capela Dos Ossos (Bone Chapel)
The Church of St. Francis itself was built in the Gothic style with Manueline influences between 1460 and 1510. Its Capela dos Ossos was created by a few Franciscan monks in the 16th century as a practical solution to a problem - as many as 42 monastic cemeteries were taking up valuable space in Evora, so they moved all the bones to a single consecrated chapel. Seeing an opportunity to contemplate and communicate the inevitability of death, the monks chose to display the bones prominently rather than storing them away.
What to See at Capela Dos Ossos (Bone Chapel)
The main Church of St. Francis is opulently decorated with golden altars and walls of painted blue tile. The Chapel of Bones is entered next door, through a large arch bearing a painted rhyme reminding visitors of their own mortality: Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos: "Our bones that are here wait for yours!"
Inside, human bones and skulls completely cover the chapel's walls and pillars - the number of skeletons has been estimated at 5,000. Legend has it the bones come from soldiers of a major battle or plague victims, but in reality they are people from all walks of life who were buried in Evora's medieval cemeteries.
Interestingly, the bones of the monks who assembled the chapel are not on display - they are kept in a small white coffin in the chapel. In addition to all the bones, there are two full corpses hanging high on a wall. Their identities are unknown, but there are plenty of legends: one popular story says they are an adulterous man and his infant son, cursed by his jealous wife.
At one end of the chapel, an altar with a crucifix reminds visitors of the way to overcome death. The rib-vaulted ceiling of the chapel continues the theme, painted with small scenes accompanied by Latin phrases such as "I leave, but I don't die," "I die in the light," and "The day that I die is better than the day that I was born."
Evora's Capela dos Ossos is not the only church decorated with human bones. See our category "Dead on Display" for similar sites around the world.
Quick Facts on Capela Dos Ossos (Bone Chapel)
|Names:||Bone Chapel · Capela dos Ossos · Capela dos Ossos (Bone Chapel) · Igreja de São Francisco|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||38.568968° N, 7.908568° W|
|Address:||Praça 1 de Maio|
|Hours:||Mon-Sat 9am-12:45pm & 2:30-5:45pm, Sun opens at 10am|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Capela Dos Ossos (Bone Chapel)|
- Frommer's Portugal, 19th edition.
- Igreja de São Francisco and around - Rough Guide to Portugal
- Peeling Back the Layers of Evora's History - Rick Steves' Europe
- Traveler Reviews of the Chapel of Bones - TripAdvisor
- Igreja de São Francisco (Évora) - Portuguese Wikipedia
- Capela dos Ossos - English Wikipedia
- Godspeed! Chapel of Bones, Évora, Portugal - video tour by Fr. Roderick (chapel tour starts about 5 minutes in)
Map of Capela Dos Ossos (Bone Chapel), Evora
Below is a location map and aerial view of Capela Dos Ossos (Bone Chapel). Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.