The first thing you notice, even before you enter Evora’s Chapel of Bones, is the inscription above its door: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” or: “We bones, are here, waiting for yours.”
Those words, however, are soon forgotten as you cross the threshold and lay your eyes upon the thousands of bones strategically and artfully applied to every wall, every pillar, to the ceiling.
In the 16th century, the town of Evora, the capital of Portugal’s Alentejo region, had run out of space for its dead. Forty-plus cemeteries was already too many, so Franciscan monks resolved to build a chapel within which the bones of the dead could be stored.
They went a step farther, though, festooning the chapel’s interior with the remains of over 5000 bodies. The idea was to bring the people of Evora to think about the transience of materiel wealth and the inevitability of death.
The three founding monks certainly put their money where their mouths were, having themselves been interred in the chapel. Their remains are contained within a white coffin by the chapel’s alter.
Hanging from one of the chapel’s pillars, among the bones, is a poem written by Father Antonio da Ascencao:
“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.”