Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chapel Of Bones : Portugal

Facade of the Chapel of Bones
Rama, Ananth and our daughter Puja
waiting outside the chapel.

 In many bone chapels, or catacombs, the bones are just strewn arounnd, hardly serving any purpose. However at the Capela dos Ossos, the purpose of the bones is carved into the entry way, "Nos ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos", meaning "Our bones that are here awaits yours!". Seems so scary yet so profound, the meaning : literally dripping from the bones. The 16th century monks who built the Chapel of Bones wanted visiters to contemplate the rather transient nature of life, and they used a rather macabre sense of humour in bringing the point home.
A soft featured Madonna statue provides some comfort in the stark surroundings of this Chapel
Even the beautiful paintings in the ceiling are paintings of skulls

 This Chapel is inside the Igreja de Sao Francisco in Evora Portugal. The walls and the central piers are lined with human skulls and bones bedded in cement. Inside the dimly lit chapel, it takes a moment to realise that the interior walls amd pillars supporting the arched ceiling are composed entirely of neatly stacked leg bones, arm bones and skulls. Once the shock of this realisation subsides, we begin to appriciate the almost comical sights of hundreds of skulls lined up jaw to cranium, to make borders  around the sections of vaulted ceiling.
 A statue of Jesus and an ornate gilded altar are overshadowed by the Chapel's most gruesome decoration: two desiccated  corpses  hanging bizarrely on a side wall. They are the bodies of a man and a small child which are several centuries old, but there are still skin and shreds of clothing clinging to their pathetic frames. The story goes, that the man was a wife abuser and his little son was just as disrespectful to his mother. The man finally beat his wife to death, but before she succumbed, she put a curse on her husband and her child. She declared that they would soon follow her in death, but, since they were so evil, even Hell would not accept them. As predicted, the evil pair died. When they were to be buried, the ground mysteriously turned hard as rock, and their graves could not be dug. So, the monks took their bodies and put them on permanent display in the Chapel, as warning to other wife abusers and bad children. The legends shows the Franciscan monks to have been feminists way ahead of their time. In recognition of this, local women engaged to be married cut off their hair and place the braids at the Chapel entrance, making a symbolic sacrifice of their girlhood in suppplication of a happy marriage. This custom continues today, with several fresh braids on display.
An art to be admired
 Now all this may just be rumours, for the truth is far less romantic; They were denizens of local cemetries facing eviction. Eveora went through a building boom in the late 1400s. Noblemen from Lisbon, less than 100 miles away, found that the area was good for hunting. They invited their friends to vaccation in their hunting lodges, and before long all the glitterati from the capital were buying up huge tracts of land, on which they built, large country estates. The local monks worried about the rampant construction encroaching on the area's burial grounds. They dug up the remains as a protective measure, and decided they would not only keep the bones safe within the church, but use them to glorify God as well. And so the chapel was built, as a place of meditation and prayer for the Franciscans. This Chapel is indeed a chilling display of imagination that no words can describe.

It is not as scary as it looks. The  corpse of the evil man and the evil boy
 Just opposite the evil man the evil child you would find a poem which reads:
   Where are you going in such a hurry traveller?
     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.


  1. Thanks for the informative post on Chapel of Bones. “Our bones that are here awaits yours” is very scary and at the same time makes us to contemplate.

  2. What a curious environment in which to celebrate the teachings of Jesus!

    And what an interesting, educational trip. I wish I could have joined you guys :)

  3. That was quite an informative travelogue.
    Nice clicks too
    Waiting for more :)

  4. wow. just wow. so much to process here. chilling, thought-provoking, beautiful,tragic, yikes... great post

  5. Thanks for the free trip to the Chapel of Bones, though I'm not sure if I'd like to actually visit the place. Sound eerie! Nice pictures.

  6. Soon the crowded cities may have to follow this way to reclaim the lands from grave yards!

    Those who make no bones about beating their wives, may be offered a free tour to this place!

  7. Thanks everybody for your comments, I really appreciate them. Though at first we also didn't know that such a chapel existed, but when we were told we had to see it. It is really a beautiful chapel and not as scary as it appears . I believe there is another church like this somewhere else also in Europe.

  8. Hey rama ji..i really like this one yar: Where are you going in such a hurry traveller?
    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.
    me 2 liked subu's comments..btw, what abt those women who make no bones about beating their wives!!!hehe

  9. Thanks Ramesh.
    More than contemplating on death and journey, we were totally taken in by the unique way in which bones were used by the monks not only to make man contemplate, but the use of it in such an artistic way. The experience was mind blowing.

  10. Awesome pictures. Really liked the poem at the end too.

  11. waw! u were in my country1!! :)))) Thanks for all the information!!! I have never been in Evora but I would like to visit!!!!


  12. Liked the legend behind the father-son duo who were women abusers! That is nice legend which will serve as a warning.

  13. Thanks N@ne, and Nona.
    I am glad you liked reading about The Chapel of bones. Don't miss it if ever travel to Evora.

  14. Hello Rama:)

    This is an amazing and awe inspiring tour which reminds of the reality of life. Chapel of Bones makes us wonder what is this life after all. The fighting,quarrels,enmity, pride, ego,vanity,hatred,pride,greed,avarice,amassing wealth etc. where it will all end.

    This reminds of the poem- Death the Leveler.


    Cruelty of man to women has been from early stages of civilization. Only now with education,publicity, enactment of laws there is some protection to women. But even then when a man is in a fit of anger nothing can stop him from being extremely cruel. This happens not only in India but all over the world. We had several women leaders like Indira Gandhi,Margaret Thacher and so on who proved to the world they can match the best men in the world.Yet the world will not learn.This is why a chapel like this where the bones of the man and his son who were cruel to the woman are displayed plays a crucial role in educating the visitors to be tolerant,understanding,kind,co operate,live amicably with the women counter parts since both are needed for the survival and progress of the world.

    The photos are excellent and your narrative was interesting and educative. For an arm chair traveler like me it is an eye opener.

    The family photo is very interesting. You and your daughter look like twins. Only your hair is short and you have a glittering nose stud on the right side of your nose.Other wise there is no difference at all.Amazing photo indeed.

    This is truly a magnificent post and reminds of the saying-WE ARE DUST AND TO DUST SHALL WE RETURN.

    Best wished Rama:)

  15. love your blog!! you have such a beautiful family and pics on here!!