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An eerie visit to the Chapel of Bones

On a trip to the historic city of Évora, we visited the Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos) - a remarkable chapel located within the Church of São Francisco. It is a macabre, yet intriguing destination that has captivated visitors from around the world. It was constructed in the 16th century by Franciscan monks with a morbid yet philosophical purpose.

During this time, Portugal was experiencing a population boom, and cemeteries were becoming overcrowded. To address the issue, the monks decided to exhume the remains of over 5,000 individuals and use their bones to decorate the interior of the chapel. The aim was to create a ´memento mori´, a reminder of the transitory nature of human existence.

As you enter the chapel, you are greeted by an eerie sight – the interior walls and columns are adorned with carefully arranged human skulls and bones. The skeletal decorations form intricate patterns and designs, ranging from arches to geometric shapes, creating a surreal and contemplative atmosphere.

The message behind the bone-filled walls is that death is an inevitable part of life. What I found quite spooky is the inscription at the entrance - “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” or: “We bones, are here, waiting for yours.”

On that note, I will leave you with a poem which makes the purpose of the Chapel clear. It was written by Father Antonio da Ascencao, and this is the translation: “Where are you going in such a hurry traveler? Pause… do not advance your travel; 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 all 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.”

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