Visiting the Bones Chapel (Capela dos Ossos) in Évora is an otherworldly experience! Over the entrance door of the temple, in the Church of S. Francisco, appears this suggestive welcome inscription!
“We bones that stand here, for yours we wait.”
BONES CHAPEL – ÉVORA
There are many places to explore in Évora, a city-museum considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire city is stunning, but of all its attractions, the one that causes the most astonishment is undoubtedly the Capela dos Ossos! Some say it is macabre, but the truth is that visitors are never lacking, whether for morbidity, curiosity, or historical interest. Daylight is not welcome in this chapel. It only enters through three tiny cracks. The place is dominated by blackness to which is added an almost infinite number of bones! Ready to enter? Then let’s do it, because life is short and death is certain!
Inside the chapel you will find the walls and the 8 columns that make it up lined with bone and human skulls. A curious and macabre engineering connected by brown cement. The bones dominate the “landscape” but there is also room for religious statues and a Renaissance painting. It is difficult to know exactly the number of bones that found eternal rest there. But it is believed that approximately 5000 people have found their final resting place in the chapel of the bones of Evora.
The temple is of penitential nature and was dedicated to Senhor dos Passos, an image well known by those who live in Évora and that represents the suffering of Jesus along the via sacra (the path that Christ took carrying the cross to the place where he was crucified)! On the vaulted ceiling of the chapel we find frescos from 1810. A multitude of symbols and biblical passages make up these paintings.
As you exit the chapel, take a closer look at the temple’s most recent acquisition. A tile panel designed by the great architect Siza Vieira. With a black and white line, the panel gives us another opportunity to reflect on death and above all… on life!
The Evora chapel is distinguished from the others also because it is there that we can see two additional attractions: two mummies inside two glass chambers. A recent investigation concluded that they were a woman (about 30 years old) and a girl about 2 and a half years old.
The results of the investigation have definitively refuted an old legend about these two bodies. The legend was that we were looking at two bodies of two men: father and son. Both had mistreated a woman (wife and mother respectively) and she had cursed them. The curse would prevent them from returning to earth as dust after death.
The cause of the woman’s death remains uncertain being clear that at the time of her death she was not in perfect health. Genius, no? Mr. de La Palisse couldn’t have said it better! To prove this theory, the researchers used an analysis of the woman’s teeth, which revealed serious infections. It seems that the lady from prehistoric times did not brush her teeth very often…
Going to Évora and not visiting the chapel of bones is like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope! A DEATH experience worth LIVING and sharing with family and friends!
WHERE IS THE BONES CHAPEL IN ÉVORA?
One of the advantages of Portugal being a small country is that everything is close! From Lisbon to Évora is 136 km, a journey of only 1h30 by car or bus. You also have the possibility to do the trip by train. However, the journey is longer, there are far fewer trains than buses and Évora station is far from the city center, while the bus terminal is only a 10 minute walk away. Once you arrive in Évora, just look for the Igreja de S. Francisco, in Praça 1º de Maio.
BONES CHAPEL HISTORY
The first surprise is that Évora’s Capela dos Ossos is not the only one of its kind! There was a time when this type of construction appeared all over Europe. Portugal is one of the countries where there are more chapels of bones. They are located between Alentejo and Algarve. It is not by chance that they are often linked to the Franciscan order. This is how their founder, St. Francis of Assisi, prayed:
“Praise be to you, Lord, for our sister death…”
Évora’s Chapel of Bones is the oldest and most famous in the country. It is located in a former convent dormitory and its construction dates back to the 17th century. At that time there were about forty cemeteries in the region. The abode of the dead occupied a large extension of land, an area that, for those who were alive, was important for other purposes. Three Franciscan friars are said to have thought of the Chapel of the Bones. They responded to a practical need, the clearing of the land, with a spiritual space.
In this place of religious worship, there is an invitation to reflect, exhibiting death, the fragility and transience of life is exposed. With the bones unearthed from the surrounding cemeteries, the chapel was built in the friars’ former dormitory. The space destined for earthly rest became the new abode of eternal rest. The bones of the three friars also stayed here, in a white coffin, next to the altar. In an area of about 19 by 11 meters, thousands of bones and skulls completely cover the walls and pillars of the chapel.
The frescoes on the ceiling depict biblical scenes, with special emphasis on the Passion of Christ. Right in front of the Chapel exit, we come across a modern tile panel by architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. At death’s door, in this composition, the author celebrates life.
BONES CHAPEL, ÉVORA – PRICE and TIMETABLE
The ticket also gives access to the Núcleo Museológico and the Nativity Scenes Collection. The adult ticket costs €5, the youth ticket (up to 25 years old), the senior ticket (over 65 years old) costs €3.5 and the family ticket costs €12.5. If you want to know more, you can always book a guided tour of Evora with a local guide. You can visit the Chapel practically whenever you want. It is open to the public every day except January 1st, Easter Sunday, December 24th in the afternoon, and December 25th. Starting at 9am you can visit it. In summer, the last entry is at 6:30 pm,. In winter you can enter until 5pm.
SÃO FRANCISCO CHAPEL
Inside the church of São Francisco we not only find the chapel of bones. We can also see the Museological Nucleus and the collection of nativity scenes. It is of large dimensions and was built in the 13th century. It has a rococo style in its facade. Its interior is of great beauty and the altars (the side altars and the main one) and two pipe organs stand out. It was in this church that Dom Pedro married Dona Constança.
In 2014 the old friars’ dormitory, which is located above the chapel of bones, was restored. There, a museum center was created with the works of several convents of Évora.
THE NATIVITY SCENE COLLECTION
With the requalification of the church, the galleries above the side chapels opened their doors to the public proudly displaying a collection of nativity scenes. There are several hundred national and international cribs by various national and foreign artists.
THE CHAPEL OF BONES AND MAN’S RELATIONSHIP WITH DEATH
Visiting the chapel of bones in Évora is also an opportunity to make us reflect on the changes in man’s relationship with death. In the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries man’s relationship with death was much more natural and trivial. Poor living conditions, the almost complete absence of medicine and disease, quickly decimated young and old alike. Death cohabited with everyone and was a constant presence.
Nowadays death has been relegated to the professionals, to health institutions, and to funeral homes. Nobody talks about death, we filter it, we hide it from children and make it disappear from our world. We don’t even talk about our dead. And I bet that my dear reader is already feeling uncomfortable with this paragraph…
VIRTUAL VISIT TO THE BONES CHAPEL OF ÉVORA
OTHER BONE CHAPELS IN PORTUGAL
If you are interested in taking the full itinerary of bone chapels in Portugal, know that you can find them in: Alcantarilha, Campo Maior, Monforte, Lagos, Faro and Évora of course. We have prepared a map for you to facilitate your planning.
As we have already mentioned, the most famous Bone Chapel in Portugal is the one in Évora. The second most important is probably the one in Faro. For this reason we have prepared a description about this temple.
BONES CHAPEL, FARO
It is worth heading south and also visiting the chapel of bones in Faro, in the Algarve. Here we are welcomed with the following invitation to reflection, inscribed over the entrance portal:
“Stop here considering that this state you will reach.”
This chapel is very small, compared to the chapel of bones in Évora, it is only 4 meters wide by 6 meters deep. However, it has particularities that differentiate it. While the bones in Évora’s Capela dos Ossos fill the walls and pillars, in this chapel in Faro, the bones form a continuous unit, from the walls to the vaulted ceiling, with no possible escape to look at. To complete the picture, several tomb slabs are part of the floor.
WHERE IS THE CHAPEL OF THE BONES IN FARO?
In Largo do Carmo, in the heart of Faro, stands the sumptuous Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo. Upon entering the church, one is confronted with an amazing baroque scenario in gilded woodcarving.
Nothing would make you guess that, passing through a discreet door and crossing a small interior garden, we will come across a Chapel of Bones! Here the exuberance of gold gives way to the magnificence of death! To facilitate your visit, here are the coordinates: GPS: 37°01’13.4 “N 7°56’05.0 “W
HISTORY OF THE CHAPEL OF BONES OF FARO
The construction of the Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, to which the Capela dos Ossos de Faro belongs, lasted from 1713 to 1719. Following the earthquake of 1755, its facade was rebuilt. However, the Capela dos Ossos is later. It was built 1816, with the bones of more than 1000 Carmelite monks, dug up from the graves of an old order cemetery.
The intention would be to remember the simple and humble life of the monks and to remember how brief and fleeting human life is. It is possible that, as in the case of the Chapel of Bones in Évora, it also responded to the practical need to free up space in the cemetery grounds.
PRICE AND SCHEDULE OF THE CHAPEL OF BONES OF FARO
The entrance is through the main church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo. Access to this church is free, but to visit the Chapel, an entrance fee of 2€ is charged. Be aware of the visiting hours, which are not as extensive as those of the Chapel of Bones in Évora. You can visit the chapel in the morning, between 10am and 1pm, Monday to Saturday. In the afternoon, you can visit from Monday to Friday, between 3pm and 4pm. That is, during the weekend it is only accessible on Saturday mornings. The chapel also cannot be visited during the celebration of the Eucharist in the main church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS NEAR THE BONES CHAPEL, ÉVORA
If you visit the chapel of bones, we suggest that you also visit the church of São Francisco (which houses the aforementioned chapel). To calmly see these two Eborenses attractions, two hours are perfectly enough. If you are visiting the city of Évora, know that you are in a magical place with an incredible number of tourist attractions. Among all of them, we suggest 4: the Roman Temple, Giraldo Square, Évora Cathedral, and Graça Church. To efficiently organize the sequence of your tours, we have prepared a map for you. We hope it will be useful!
From the chapel of bones to the Roman temple is only 800 meters, a distance that can be covered in 10 minutes on foot. It is the maximum symbol of the city. The Roman temple of Évora (often mistakenly called Temple of Diana), is one of the best preserved in Europe. It was built in the 1st century A.D. and is right in the city center, at Conde de Vila Flor square. If you go to Évora, you must visit this monument!
400 meters and 4 minutes walk separate the Chapel of Bones from the Praça do Giraldo in Évora. It is a symbol of the city and also a tribute to Geraldo Geraldes, the “Dauntless” who conquered the city of Evora from the Moors in the distant year 1167. The most central place in the city, a place that mixes the past (several monuments) and the present (lots of commerce) in a balanced way. It is a case of saying that all roads lead to the Giraldo square!
From the chapel of bones to the Evora cathedral is only 600 meters away. It takes only 6 minutes on foot. It holds the title of the largest cathedral of the Middle Ages in Portugal. Its construction began in 1186 and was finished in 1250 (64 years later). Its architecture is a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. Its facade is imposing and has two large towers. The interior of the cathedral is 80 meters long, distributed over 3 naves. A visit not to be missed!
Only a 4-minute walk (350 meters) is enough to go from the Chapel of Bones to the church of Graça. Also called the convent of Nossa Senhora da Graça, it was the first Renaissance temple to be built in the city. It was erected in 1524 replacing a convent that existed there. A granite church with a very beautiful exterior. Inside we find only one nave and several baroque tile panels from the 17th century. It was restored in the second half of the last century keeping the Renaissance features.