In Evora, Portugal exists the Chapel of Bones (or Capela dos Ossos). The Chapel of Bones is located next to the entrance of the Church of St. Francis. Upon entering the chapel, it is easy to see why it is called as such: the interior is decorated with human skulls and bones!
The Chapel of Bones was built in the 16th century during the Countrer-Reformation era by a Franciscan monk. The monk’s goal of the chapel was to bring light to contemplation that life is a transition from one plane to another. At the entrance of the cave, above the door, the monk carved: Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos (We bones that here await for yours).
There are over 5,000 corpses inside the 18.7 meter long by 11 meter wide chapel. The remains were brought in from several nearby church cemeteries. The most haunting corpses within the chapel are that of an intact child and an adult that dangle from ropes as if hung and died on the wall. Above them is carved: Melior est die mortis die nativitatis (Better is the day of death than the day of birth)” (Ecclesiastes, 7, 1).
On a pillar, inside the chapel, in an old wooden frame hanged a poem in attribution to Fr. Antonion Da Ascencao Tele, the parish priest of the St. Francis Church and Chapel of Bones from 1845 – 1848.
(This has been translated by Fr. Carlos A Martins, CC)
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.
The Chapel of Bones is truly a haunting and macabre place to visit. However, at the same time it exudes beauty in honoring the transition that occurs between the planes of life and death.
Amanda, there is a chapel just like this one in Sedlec, Czech Republic. My husband and I visited it when we lived in Prague. The monk who created it was blind and yes, Cistercian, and he made it because there were so many bones washed out of the cemetery after a huge flood – from all the burials during the Black Death.
It probably says something about me (I don’t now whether it’s something good) that I find places like that not at all creepy or macabre but somehow calming, even soothing at times. Okay, I’m not sure about the ones dangling from the ceiling, but…I guess it makes me feel that the dead are still there present in a way, which also makes me feel that death is not the end, that when I’m dead perhaps I’ll also still be present in a way. Which makes me wonder, in the horror genre, can death–or even horrific creatures or acts–be in any way redemptive?
I can’t go into this Chapel of Bones. Of all the weird macabre places you have written, this is one I can’t contemplate visiting.
One day, while coming from work, I passed a dead man on the road. He’d been run over. I was struck by how people were just passing by, going about their businesses. Few had stopped to watch. They were waiting for the police.
I thought that if it were me, people would still be passing like that. Life going on. Just one more person removed from the incredible mass of humanity. One inconsequential person. I was terrified. Something ran up my spine and I almost screamed.
The man and the kid hanging in the Chapel of Bones, they were once important, loved, loving. Yet now they are tourist attractions!