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Portugal’s Chapel of Bones

The Chapel of Bones is part of the larger Royal Church of St. Francis and was constructed by Franciscan monks in the late 16th century.

By the 16th century, there were as many as 43 cemeteries in and around Evora that were taking up valuable land. Not wanting to condemn the souls of the people buried there, the monks decided to build the Chapel and relocate the bones.

However, rather than interring the bones behind closed doors, the monks, who were concerned about society’s values at the time, thought it best to put them on display. They thought this would provide the town with a helpful place to meditate on the transience of material things in the undeniable presence of death. This is made clear by the thought-provoking message above the chapel door: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” or: “We bones that are here, for your bones we wait.”

Among the 5000 corpses interred here is a small white coffin by the altar which holds the bones of the three Franciscan monks who founded the church in the 13th century. Also included are two desiccated corpses hanging by chains from the wall next to a cross.  One is that of a child.

Ponder, you so influenced by fate,
Among all the many concerns of the world,
So little do you reflect on death;

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.

(Source: atlasobscura.com)

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