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Chilling Bone Chapels in Evora and Faro

Chilling Bone Chapels in Evora and Faro

by Julie Dawn Fox

Bone chapels are unlikely to be the first thing you would associate with a trip to Portugal. When I first heard about these chapels built of human skeletons, it was enough to send shivers down my spine. Even so, my morbid curiosity got the better of me and I decided to see for myself how gruesome they really are.

Chapel of Bones, Évora

Portugal’s best bone chapel in is arguably the one in Évora. Inside the cool gloom of the chapel, every wall and column is studded with the knobbly ends of femurs interspersed with rows of smooth craniums and lengths of arm bones from 5,000 bodies, all arranged into intricate patterns 500 years ago.

Deep inside the macabre structure an entire desiccated body hangs from its neck, head flopped onto collarbone. Behind it dangles an even more disturbing sight – a child’s skeleton.

The Franciscan monks who built this ghoulish chapel next to the church of St. Francis wanted to encourage worshipers to contemplate the transitory nature of human life, hence the inscription above the door which translates as “We bones that are here are waiting for yours”.



Faro’s Chapel of Bones

Built by and with the bones of Carmelite monks, the more modest bone chapel housed in the gardens of Igreja do Carmo (Carmelite church) in Faro shares the same purpose. The skulls that lined the exterior doorway have long since disappeared but the bones and skulls that form the interior walls remain undisturbed.

The patterns are not as detailed or fanciful as those in Évora but the geometrical designs still hold an aesthetic as well as morbid appeal. Just don’t be surprised if the bright laughter of children from the neighboring playground interrupts your quiet contemplation of mortality.


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