Chapel of Bones - Capela dos Ossos in Portugal
Chapel of Bones in Evora, Portugal
The Chapel of Bones, Capela dos Ossos in the Church of St. Francis in Evora, Portugal was created by a Franciscan monk in the 16th century as a place of contemplation for monks - to better reflect on the brevity of life.
It was intended to raise the awareness that life is transitory. It was built during the spiritual movements of the Catholic Reformation (1545 - 1648).
During the Reformation, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Ávila, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, and Philip Neri, who were major figures in the Church, devoted their time and knowledge to increase the spirituality of the Catholic Church. It was Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross who guided the conversion within the Church to Christ, deeper piety in prayer, and a stronger commitment to God's will. This all tied in with the Chapel of Bones and the awareness of living a more spiritual life.
Message Above Entrance to the Chapel: “We Bones, Lying Here Bare, are Awaiting Yours”
An ossuary is a place where human bones are stored or assembled in decorative manner as a final resting place. This could be a chest, a box, a building, or a chapel.
The largest ossuary ever created is the Ursulakammer in the Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne, Germany.
In some countries burial space is very limited. To alleviate the problem one solution is to create an ossuary, where more skeletal remains can be put in a smaller space. A body buried in a coffin will be left there temporarily, maybe seven to ten years to allow for the process of decomposition, then the bones are transferred to the ossuary.
The Ursulakammer in Cologne, Germany
Have you ever visited an ossuary?
Chapel of Bones
Three walls in the chapel, each a little over 61 feet (18.7 meters) tall and 36 feet (11 meters) wide display the skulls and bones of monks from several church cemeteries. Each skull and bone was placed in cement to adhere to the walls.
The bones were placed in such manner as to form patterned panels and arches to surround the skulls and accentuate them. The patterns and designs created decorative murals.
Patterned Wall of Bones
From the Vulgate
Better is the day of death than the day of birth
- Vulgate: Ecclesiastes, 7, 1
(An inscription near the roof of the chapel.)
Life is Transitory
This little chapel may seem dismal and sad when viewing it - yet, the Chapel of Bones was a message Fr. António da Ascenção Teles gave to his brothers to help them reflect on their journey in life and their spirituality. Fr. Telles was the Sao Pedro village parish priest from 1845 - 1848. He wrote a poem for his brothers, which was put in a wooden frame and still hangs on one of the pillars inside the chapel.
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— Fr. António da Ascenção Telles
In Contemplation and Reflection we can Understand Life is Transitory
Church of St. Francis, Igreja de São Francisco
The Church of St. Francis was built between 1475 and the 1550s. A church in the Romanesque style, built in 1226 was replaced with this church. It is huge and quite unusual, boasting majestic proportions of 25 x 34 x 24 m. That is approximately 82 x 111 x 78 feet.
It has the largest nave of its kind in Portuguese churches. With a single groin-vaulted nave, and white mortared wall and columns the wide impression is spectacular.
On either side of the nave are open chapels, twelve in all. The mix of artwork and architecture is very interesting, with Renaissance features at the chancel with the main altar and the right side choir stalls, and Baroque style on the choir stalls on the left. The side altars in the transept display beautiful 16th century Flemish paintings.
Nave in Church of St. Francis
The narthex, entrance to the church, is like a lobby or arcade consisting of seven arches with a blend of Gothic and Moorish architectural influence. The arches are of three different styles: semicircular, pointed, and horseshoe forms.
Capela dos Ossos in Faro, Portugal
Also in Portugal, in Faro, is another Capela dos Ossos. Above the entrance to this Chapel of Bones is an inscription with yet another reminder that life is ephemeral - that we are here on Earth but a short time.
Life is Ephemeral
Pára aqui a considerar que a este estado hás-de chegar
Stop here and consider, that you will reach this state too.
Chapel of Bones
The chapel is small, approximately 13 feet (4 meters) wide by 19 feet (6 meters) tall. This Chapel of Bones was started in 1816. It belongs to the Nossa Senhora do Carmo, a Carmelite church and contains the bones of over 1000 Carmelite monks.
The Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel was founded on Mount Carmel in northern Israel during the 12th century. "Mount Carmel" in Hebrew means "God's vineyard".
Chapel Containing Bones of Over 1000 Carmelite Monks at Capela dos Osos (Faro)
Chapel of the Bones is in the Church of St. Francis, Evora, Portugal.
Chapel of Bones in Faro, Portugal, which belongs to the 18th century Carmelite church Nossa Senhora do Carmo.
Note From Author
The poem from Fr. Teles is a timeless message - a reminder that is valuable even in today's world where we never know if we will be here tomorrow. Life is more uncertain than ever and only death is a certainty - of course, that has always been true. Spending time in reflection on a daily basis can aid one to find peace and harmony within and let it shine forth to help others on their journey through life.
Spirituality is a personal transformation. One does not have to be of any religious faith to experience spiritual growth and peace. Any meaningful experience that helps one to obtain peace, self worth, love and compassion for humanity and nature can be considered spiritual.
© 2015 Phyllis Doyle Burns