Skip to main content

Chapel of Bones - Capela dos Ossos in Portugal

Physical and spiritual well being is of great importance to Phyllis. Spirituality is deeply ingrained in Phyllis' life.

Chapel of Bones in Evora, Portugal

Chapel of Bones in the Church of St. Francis

Chapel of Bones in the Church of St. Francis

Spiritual Movement

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”

Entrance to Chapel of Bones.

Entrance to Chapel of Bones.


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

The Ursulakammer in the Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne, where in the 17th century the largest mosaic in human bones ever was created, that covers the four walls of the room.

The Ursulakammer in the Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne, where in the 17th century the largest mosaic in human bones ever was created, that covers the four walls of the room.

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

Decorative murals of bones.

Decorative murals of bones.

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

Hands of a Monk in prayer.

Hands of a Monk in prayer.

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.

Scroll to Continue
The largest nave of its kind in Portugal.

The largest nave of its kind in Portugal.

The Narthex

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.

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)

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


Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on August 14, 2015:

Hi Mel. The walls are pretty and meaningful when looked at from the perspective of contemplating on life and death. Thank you so much for the visit and comment, I really appreciate it.

Melody Lassalle from California on August 14, 2015:

I have never been to an ossuary, but I found this so interesting. At first the idea of using human bones in this way seems a bit macabre, but the photos show otherwise. The walls are beautiful. I can imagine the painstaking work that was done to place each bone. The monks had no choice but to contemplate the cycle of life and death in this presence. Thank you for sharing this history!

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on June 05, 2015:

Thanks, AliciaC. It is different, for us anyway. There are quite a few ossuaries in different countries. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 04, 2015:

What an interesting hub! The idea of decorating a chapel with human bones is one that I'll be thinking about for long time. Thanks for sharing the fascinating information and photos, Phyllis. I'll share this hub on Twitter.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 31, 2015:

Hi John. I think people are just fascinated with the spiritual purpose of the chapel and the reminder that life is temporary.

Thank you for reading and commenting - I appreciate it.

John Albu from Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87102 on May 31, 2015:

I understand the need to save space at ancient times in such a manner, what I find hard to get is why there are so many people who find the issue of death and human remains so fascinating. It's a bit scary.. just look at the poll results in the middle of this text.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 27, 2015:

Hi Deergha. You are most welcome. You make me smile, thank you. I really appreciate your very lovely comment and so glad to hear from you. Thank you.

deergha from ...... a place beyond now and beyond here !!! on May 27, 2015:

Dear Phyllis,

Very interesting hub. The photos are so beautifully done. Thank you for taking us with you in this awesome trip. I loved reading every bit of it. Very informative as well. You have presented the hub in a very nice way. Wish I can visit some times. Sharing and votes up interesting.

Many smiles your way


Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 26, 2015:

Hi Rachel. You are most welcome. I like to find and write about the unusual places, it broadens my mind and I get so involved in the research. My tenth grade history teacher told me my "research is excellent, now just learn how to write about it." Well, I hope he would approve my hubs.

This is the way I can travel, too, Rachel - via the internet. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I appreciate your visit, as always.

Blessings to you and have a great day.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on May 26, 2015:

Hi Phyllis, These pictures are beautiful. What an interesting hub. I didn't even know about these places. I'm so glad people like put these places in their hubs. It seems to be the only way I can travel and see the world. Thanks so much for sharing. Voted up.

Blessings to you.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 26, 2015:

Hi Peachy. Bone chapels are quite different than what most people are familiar with. To see it from a spiritual perspective makes it easier to understand.

Thank you for reading and commenting, Peachy. I appreciate your visit.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 26, 2015:

Hi word. To answer your questions would take another hub containing in-depth research. The bone chapels, and there are many of them all over Portugal and other countries, are only a very small part of the Catholic Church. I am not of the Catholic faith, but I do know enough about Catholicism to know they are Christians and use the same Holy Book of other Christian branches. Everlasting life? Does it not say in the Bible that sin is of the flesh? Bury the body till the flesh is gone then disinter the bones, wash them and place them in an ossuary. The procedure involves prayer and a memorial service and all is done with deep reverence. To understand why the Catholics did what they believed should be done in early centuries takes some education. Catholicism is not the only religion that created ossuaries. I am able to see the spirituality of the reason for the Chapel of Bones that I wrote about and if it brings peace to those who believe in the ritual, who are we to judge or assume they do not use the Holy Bible?

Some cultures have burial customs that would horrify you - look up Sky burial on Wikipedia.

You bring up some questions, Word, that must be on the minds of many others regarding this subject. It would make for an interesting hub should you decide to follow up on it.

Thank you for reading and commenting - I appreciate it.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on May 26, 2015:

awesome, i have never seen a chapel with bones, it could be eerie to see the skulls but awesome way to place the dead in spiritual manner

manatita44 from london on May 25, 2015:

Thank you, Phyllis.

Your spirituality was always there. I knew that. So glad that you are now intensifying same. Write to me about the Surgery.

St. Theresa was a spiritual giant. I look forward to her read. Much love.

Al Wordlaw from Chicago on May 25, 2015:

Hi Phyllis, This was very educational. This is the first time I've heard of bones put in the walls of a church. It's like the church expects people to look forward to having their bones attached in the walls. What about people focusing on everlasting life? The concept of being saved? Did I miss something? What kind of Bible did the Catholics regard? I heard not the King James Bible. What kind of true hope do these Catholics have? The churches seemed very architectural but not as inspirational.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 25, 2015:

Hi linfcor. The reason for the chapel was to help the monks contemplate more deeply on the meaning of life and reflect on their spirituality. I would love to visit the church, it is really beautiful.

Thank you so much for the visit and comment, linfcor - I appreciate it.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 25, 2015:

Dearest Manatita, I thank you with all my heart for your words of support and encouragement. I would very much like to write about Mohammed Ali. Thank you for the offer to help on the spiritual side, I truly appreciate that.. I will start on that tonight and will get in touch with you.

I also have a category for ancient abbeys and churches and will work on those one at a time. I wrote one on Glastonbury some time ago and want to continue on with others. Quite some time ago i learned to live in the moment - I like the way your teacher calls it the Eternal Now. That really is all we have.

I also want to write about Theresa of Avila. I have so much waiting for me to research and write on regarding the Spiritual. Since my surgery I have changed a lot spiritually. When one is laid up and unable to walk without assistance it is a chance to open more to the Spirit - it gave me a lot of time to reflect and grow.

Much Love to you, Manatita.

Linda F Correa from Spring Hill Florida on May 25, 2015:

My husband is Portugese, so I found this article very interesting. There must have been a reason to create the chapel. Have never seen an ossuary, but if I get to Portugal, I would like to see the church

manatita44 from london on May 25, 2015:

Well my Dear Phyllis,

When you write in my field, I enjoy it so much more! I was saying not so long ago that I struggle with worldly books. Your approach here is very spiritual and deeply moving for my Spirit and growth.

Well-written and nicely rehearsed article, and with timely and self-evident reminders that all we ever have is the present moment; the Eternal Now as my Teacher calls it.

You have mentioned some of my favourite Saints. Sometimes I feel sad when we fight as Christians, because our Christianity is so rich and so deep! Who know the ways of the Lord?

Thank you my Dear, the old Churches and Cathedrals were quite special and inspirational.

If you think that you can write something about Mohammed Ali, then go ahead. I will help you - if need be - with the spiritual side. He is my favourite person and a very spiritual man. Show this in your writing if you take up the challenge. Much Love.

Ann Carr from SW England on May 25, 2015:

Thank you, Phyllis.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 25, 2015:

You are welcome, Ann. Hope you get a little side trip in there to see the chapel. How nice it will be to visit with the other grandparents. Congratulations to all on the newest member of the family.

Ann Carr from SW England on May 25, 2015:

Thanks, Phyllis. I've also looked it up and I find that it's not all that far from Lisbon so, if time and other plans permit, I might get to see it! We're visiting my new granddaughter's other grandparents as they haven't seen her yet!


Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 25, 2015:

Thanks, Marie.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 25, 2015:

Ann, annart, I finally got the map in correctly, showing where Evora and Faro are located.

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on May 25, 2015:

My former sister-in-law sent me a picture of one of these chapels, but I forget now which one.

Interesting hub.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 25, 2015:

Hi Ann. I tried to get a Google map out on it but the coordinates are off, or something was not working right. I just got a blank map with my markers on it. I am sure you can get a map to Evora and the St. Francis Church once you are in Portugal. Wow ! I would love to go with you. Enjoy your trip. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 25, 2015:

Hi Jodah. Yes, I thought about the subject matter for quite awhile and really studied it. To some it could give a sense of morbidity, yet to look at the spiritual side of it and that life is ephemeral promotes a whole different thought process. Thank you so much dear friend Jodah for reading and supporting my hub. I really appreciate that you went right in with an open mind, and I appreciate you.

Ann Carr from SW England on May 25, 2015:

What a fascinating place! Slightly macabre but having read your hub I appreciate that it has quite the opposite purpose.

I'm going to Portugal tomorrow, to Lisbon. I'm not sure where this is but if it's anywhere near our route, I'll be going to have a look.

Great hub, Phyllis.


John Hansen from Gondwana Land on May 25, 2015:

At first this could appear to be quite a morbid subject for a hub Phyllis, but on reading it proved quite the opposite. It was very interesting to find out about these Chapels of Bone and ossuaries. Some are actually quite beautiful. Great photos too. Voted up.

Related Articles