Yep, you read that right. Of all the churches I’ve visited in Portugal, the Capela dos Ossos in Évora is one I certainly won’t forget in a hurry! This 16th century chapel isn’t adorned with a gold altar, wall-to-wall azulejo tiles, or ornate frescos – instead, it’s made of very real, very eerie human bones.
When I heard about this chapel, I couldn’t resist seeing it for myself. I had to know why and how it was built. As you enter the chapel, you are greeted with an ominous message above the doorway: Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos (“We bones that are here, for yours await”). And that’s precisely the reason behind the church’s unique decor: to remind us of our own mortality.
The Franciscan monks behind the construction of the chapel, lined the walls and its eight columns with skulls, bones and cement. But where did they get all the “materials”?
The estimated 5,000 skeletons came from nearby cemeteries, which were too full at the time. The floors and ceilings aren’t made of skeletons (actually, the ceiling vaults are lined with skulls), and there is also an altar (pictured below) that is more conventionally-decorated. But when you’re inside, the skulls seemingly staring at you are what captivate your attention. Think of an Indiana Jones movie… on steroids.
The Capela dos Ossos can be found next to the Church of St. Francis, in Évora and it’s one of the most unusual places you’ll visit in Portugal. Visiting the chapel may make you stop and contemplate your own humanity, but leaving it will make you feel very alive and energized.