Bones Chapel in Evora always comes to mind when you think of this city. Because it is scary or simply because it is one more of its great monuments. They are all spectacular. That’s why Evora is a World Heritage site according to UNESCO. But some are more fascinating than others!
Bones Chapel is one of the most popular monuments in Evora. We can even say it is one of its trade marks. It is located on 1º de maio square and is part of the also popular St Francis Church (Igreja de São Francisco).
Bones Chapel in Evora – History
The chapel was built in the 17th century on the initiative of three Franciscan friars whose goal was to convey the message of temporariness and fragility of human life. This message is clearly transmitted to visitors of Bones Chapel right at its entrance through the sign “We bones that are here, for yours we wait”. In fact, it show Baroque’s men macabre taste for necrophilia.
This chapel was built on the site where initially the monks’ dorm and reflecting room were found. It is formed by three naves of about 61.3ft long and 33ft across (18.7m x 11m). Natural light strategically comes in the naves through three small gaps on the left side. It is a very dark place! Be brave…
The walls in Bones Chapel and its eight pillars are covered with bones and human skulls carefully spread and connected with cement. The domes are made of bricks plastered in white and painted with motives symbolising or referring to death. Other than the bones themselves, Bones Chapel is also decorated with religious statues and paintings in Renaissance and Baroque styles.
The arcades are ornamented with rows of skulls, cornices and white naves. It is estimated that there are around 5000 human skulls in Bones Chapel, among numerous bones. They all came from graves in the convent church and from other churches and cemeteries in Evora.
In the 16th century there were almost 42 monastic cemeteries in the city, which occupied too much space. As solution, monks extracted bones from the ground and used them to build and “decorate” this chapel.
Bones Chapel is a monument of penitential architecture. It is dedicated to Senhor dos Passos, a character representing quite impressively the suffering of Christ in his walk towards Calvary with the cross on his back.
Yes, it is true that a chapel full of bones can be a sinister sight. You can even think that it is impossible that such place exists. But it does! And… It makes no sense to visit Evora without seeing Bones Chapel. It is a an experience from another world worth living and sharing with others.