Creeped Out at Évora’s Bone Chapel

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“Here, our bones lie, awaiting yours.”  This is the macabre welcome to Évora’s most famous attraction — the capela dos ossos, or bone chapel.

The bone chapel was my primary reason for visiting Évora, and it’s well worth a visit.

The chapel was built by a Franciscan monk in the 16th century during the Counter-Reformation.  Its purpose was to remind people of the transient nature of life, that we are here only temporarily before going home — as they proclaimed — to God and heaven.

The bones were stacked tightly on top of each other.  The other famous bone church, at Kutna Hora in Czech Republic, is known for its ornate bone chandeliers — here it’s more simple.

It doesn’t get any more complicated than a skeleton hanging to its death.

The bone chapel was a solemn place to contemplate life and think of how short a time we have in the grand scheme of things.  (At least it was solemn until a group of wild high school students came in on a field trip!)

At that time, I left the chapel and admired the outside decor — it was so beautiful, it could have been the main attraction!

Enjoy this macabre brand of tourism?  I have a few suggestions for you: head to Kutna Hora, Czech Republic, for the much more ornate bone chapel; trek all the way to Cambodia to see the Killing Fields (though personally the experience was too raw and recent for me to marvel); and visit Paris’s catacombs and Pere Lachaise Cemetery.  Book Paris holiday rentals to get the most out of your visit — click here to find the best Paris deals.

As creepy as it initially sounds, there’s no better place to reflect on your own life than an attraction devoted to death.

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16 thoughts on “Creeped Out at Évora’s Bone Chapel”

  1. Whoa that is so amazing how beautiful these bone churches came out to be and so much detail was put into them. Although, I have to admit once I read the macabre welcome I doubt I’d have the guts to stay in there for too long lol.

  2. ok now that I read it i think its meaningful.
    a similar thing I’ve seen in spain on a random catacombs on the camino de santiago was “where you are, I was someday. And where I am, you will be someday”

    I would love to go there!

  3. The San Francisco Cathedral in Lima, Peru offers a Western hemisphere version of these European bone chapels. There are some pretty neat patterns and arrays laid out in bone, though I was a little freaked out when I saw what I thought was an odd misshapen alien like skull, only to realize it was that of a child.

  4. @Mina – I’ve seem something very similar (on the tomb of a Mexican pirate, of all things). If you search Wikipedia for “Et in Arcadia Ego” there are a few renaissance paintings that convey the same message as well.

    I think these bone chapels are indeed a jarring reminder of the transience of life, and in that regard they remind me of some of the themes in Buddhist or Stoic philosophy. However, if you’re more into the freak show side of this, you should indeed check out the chapel at Kunta Hora… where the Capela dos Ossos and the catacombs of Paris have this solemn air to them, the one in Kunta Hora seems oddly festive. All sorts of bone ornaments decorating the walls and there’s even a bone chandelier. It’s pretty bizarre.

    Question for Kate – the Wikipedia page on Capela dos Ossos has a fantastic poem about reflecting on death (and it’s aimed specifically at travelers) but there’s no mention about where/if it appears in the chapel. Did you happen to see this there by any chance? Thanks!

    1. Reid, there was actually a different poem there. I took a picture of a stanza:

      The scraggy skulls
      Are my company
      I have them night and day
      In my memory;
      Many were honoured
      In the world by their talents,
      And other vain ornaments
      Which served vanity
      Maybe in Eternity
      The reason of their torments!

  5. I visited the catacombs in Paris and was not expecting to have such a strong reaction to being down there. Not sure if it felt the same in the bone chapel, but it was really overwhelming to be surrounded by the remains of so many humans. I don’t know if I was humbled or completely freaked out.

    Interesting, but I think I am skipping bone related tourism for a bit. I’ll be the one on the outside taking pictures 🙂

  6. Thanks! This speaks to the macabre side of my nature (it reminds me of the creepy Capuchin Chapel in Rome). So much so that I’m seeing if I can include Évora in my trip to Portugal next month. Cheers!

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