Chapel of Bones, Évora, Portugal

We, the bones that are here await yours.

A wall decorated entirely of human bones and skulls
Chapel of Bones, Évora, Portugal (2022)

Bucket list item... CHECK! ✔

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit this place.

Alexia stands inside the chapel of bones
Capela dos Ossos, Évora, Portugal

On our final day in Portugal we took a train from Lisbon to the town of Évora to visit Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones).

Évora is charming and gorgeous and worth spending a day trip exploring.

This particular ossuary was built by Franciscan monks in the early 17th century and was originally dedicated to the cult of the Souls of Purgatory, Anima Sola (Lonely Soul).

Later, the chapel's dedication turned to Nosso Senhor dos Passos (literally translated to "Our Lord of the Steps", an invocation of Jesus Christ).

Chapel alter and surrounding walls, covered in human bones and skulls
Chapel of Bones, Évora, Portugal (2022)

Évora’s medieval graveyards had become overcrowded, so the monks exhumed the remains in order to make room for new bodies to be buried. Instead of storing those bones away, they assembled the chapel.

The interior walls of the chapel are intricately decorated with human skulls and various bones, estimated to have come from about 5000 people.

Marble doorway with Latin inscription
Chapel of Bones, Évora, Portugal (2022)

Above the chapel entrance, inscribed text reads “Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos”, which translates to: We, the bones that are here await yours.

On the chapel's ceiling, painted with beautiful murals showcasing various scenes of life and death, one of many quotes reads "Melior est die mortis die nativitatis", translating to: Better is the day of death than the day of birth.

A pillar with human skulls and bones embedded
Chapel of Bones, Évora, Portugal (2022)

This place is macabre. But the energy doesn't feel heavy here.

It is a spellbinding and spectacular celebration of the inevitability of death and the transience of our existence.

Reflecting on our mortality in such a bold and celebratory manner is something I find invigorating and inspiring.

Death, of all living things, is a persistent and important reminder that each of us are on this earth for a brief and beautiful moment.

A reminder to simply enjoy your life before you pass back into oblivion.

A reminder that all humankind is destined for dust.

In the end we all end up the same.

“Recall how many have passed from this world,
Reflect on your similar end.
There is good reason to do so;
If only all did the same.”

~ Padre António da Ascenção
(translated excerpt from the poem inscribed inside the chapel)

Tips and tricks

Our advice to you:

  • Be prepared to wait in a line for tickets and admittance to the Chapel of Bones and the Royal Church of St. Francis (part of the same building)
  • Bring water before you line up, as Évora tends to be very hot and there aren't many options at the church
  • Make sure to check out the museum, also found in the same building, offering an interesting display of art and historical artifacts
  • Spend some time exploring Évora, a beautiful town with a nice central public garden and lots of cute places to eat (stay tuned, I'll talk about where we had lunch in our upcoming blog in the series: Best places to eat in Portugal)
  • Visit the Roman Temple of Évora, an ancient Roman structure dating back to the 1st century CE that looks like it belongs in Greece

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