A 16th Century Interior Chapel Adorned with Human Bones and Skulls
One of the well-known masterpiece in Evora, Portugal is located next to the Church of St. Francis, a modest interior chapel called the Capela dos Ossos which translates as “the Chapel of Bones”. The chapel is named so because of its interior walls decorated with human bones and skulls.
A Franciscan monk built this chapel in the 16th Century. He wanted to deliver the message that life is transient, a common point summed up in the memento mori architecture.
The Franciscan monk would like to elicit contemplation of this message from his fellow brothers, as he was inspired by the Counter-Reformation spirit of that era.
At Capela dos Ossos' entrance, a warning sign greets the visitors which read: “We bones that here are, for yours await.”
The eight pillars and walls are designed with human bones and skulls scrupulously secured by cement.
The already bizarre interior was added with an eerie final touch, death motifs were incorporated to the white painted brick ceiling.
In this chapel, several of the skulls are scribbled with graffiti because of vandalism. Primarily belonging to the deceased monks, there are about 5,000 human bones here coming from cemeteries of many different churches .
The creepiest detail in the chapel is that of a child, a corpse dangling from ropes. A quote from the Vulgate bible is engraved on the roof of the chapel: “Melior est die mortis die nativitatis” (Better is the day of death than the day of birth, Ecclesiastes, 7, 1).
One of the pillars in the chapel has this poem written, regarding the need to reflect on one’s existence.
Where are you going in such a hurry traveler?
Stop … do not proceed;
You have no greater concern,
Than this one: that on which you focus your sight.
Recall how many have passed from this world,
Reflect on your similar end,
There is good reason to reflect
If only all did the same.
Ponder, you so influenced by fate,
Among the many concerns of the world,
So little do you reflect on death;
If by chance you glance at this place,
Stop … for the sake of your journey,
The more you pause, the further on your journey you will be.