Our 11-year-old daughter first bought the Bone Church of Portugal to my attention. I knew there was a Bone Chapel in the Czech Republic but not in Portugal. After doing a little research on the Evora Bone Chapel we found another in Faro. What was it with the Portuguese church and the Capela dos Ossos (Bone Chapels) As it happens we would be going to both of these places where the Bone Churches were. Capela dos Ossos in Spanish is what the Bone Chapels are known as. Because Willow had taken the time to research a place that was of interest to her we decided to visit 2 of these Chapel of Bones on our last family holidays in the picturesque Portugal. We visited the Chapel at Igreja Do Carmo Faro Church and the Chapel at St Francis in Evora, Portugal. Faro is the capital of the Algarve region and Evora is one of the many easy day trips from Lisbon.
A question my wife and I posed many times was should we take the kids? How would this impact on our kids? Would it cause nightmares? Would it be upsetting or would they just shrug it off? Is it even acceptable from a cultural and learning point of view to even expose an 8 and 11-year-old to skulls and bones? Our youngest was adamant that she did not want to see the Chapel or the people’s bones. I think she had notions of dead people as in whole people skin, hair and faces. We had no real answers to any of these questions till we stood just outside the entrance at Igreja Do Carmo in Faro Portugal.
Capelo Dos Ossos Faro – Igreja Do Carmo
To get to Capelo Dos Ossos Faro Chapel you first must pay a small entry fee and enter. You walk through the equally amazing Faro church. The church dates from 1719 and was built with money made in Portugal’s Brazilian gold fields. Out the back of the church lies the Bone Chapel. The walls and ceiling are lined with the bones of 1200 Carmelite monks that were exhumed from a nearby church cemetery. First off The chapel is small around 5 meters long and a bit over 2 meters wide.
The bones and skills are placed in a repetitive pattern in the Chapel. The small chapel has large crucifixes at one end for prayer. I was not sure what to expect myself. Over the entry, a sign reads “stop here and consider the fate that will befall you”. Strangely it was not what I had imagined. Being small and open to the sunlight made it feel, should I say more like a display than a chapel or something you would expect when you think of a Bone Church. I was also surprised that the bones were not protected by anything and that you could touch them if you wanted to. A gentleman that was manning the Chapel said that people do touch them and it damages them. The Bone Chapel has also had the issue with people taking ones from the Chapel which we were all very disappointed in. This church is certainly on the Algarve sightseeing trail.
Capela dos Ossos Evora Portugal – Igreja de são francisco évora
This chapel is on a far grander scale than the Faro chapel. Capela dos Ossos Evora was built in the 16th century by a Franciscan monk. Capela dos Ossos Evora sits inside Igreja de são Francisco évora (St Francis church) This huge Gothic style church was built in the late 14th century. This Bone Chapel measures 18 meters long and 11 meters wide. They say it took the bones of 5000 people to create this spiritual masterpiece.Find a hotel in Evora Portugal with Hotels Combined
Famously when you enter there is a sign saying “We bones that here are, For yours await “. The bones are arranged on the walls and the 8 pillars that support the Chapel. We spent far more time looking at this chapel. Not sure if it was the size or the dull lighting that created a far more macabre scene for this Chapel. Igreja de são Francisco évora was truly a statement made in the sheer number of bones on display. This Bone Chapel was very different to the one in Faro as well. The church it was in was larger and you did not actually have to walk through the Church to get to it. These bones were also protected from anyone touching them at all or really getting up close to them. Just outside of the Bone Chapel was a little area where the girls sat on benches while they waited for us to finish looking. This church is one of many amazing Portugal Landmarks in the Evora region.
Ok, so what happened to the children? Marley did have a quick look at the door at the Faro Chapel then sat outside. There was a lovely lady who was visiting the Bone Chapel with her son and had decided to sit outside after she had seen the Bone Chapel, so Marley sat and had a chat to her while she waited for us. Even outside you could still see the skulls and bones. Willow came and had a look before heading outside to sit and chat as well. In Evora, Marley did not come in at all and Willow only briefly. I think it depends on individual children as to how you expose them to such places. Neither of them thought badly of the Bone Chapels but I think it was a little overwhelming for them. It was great that they were able to then ask questions about who, what and why people were in these Bone Chapels which made them understand a little more.
For me, I enjoyed the experience and the work that must have gone into creating such, dare I say religious pieces of art basically. There is no fear or horror when visiting these places. I stood in awe fascinated that some would be willing to do this to create such places. These Bone Chapel are more than just a tourist attraction. They were built as a message, a statement as such on the facilities of life. Should the Capela dos Ossos be a tourist attraction or a place or worship? That’s a question for the Portuguese Church. But then again the cemeteries could just as easily been full and they may have needed the land!
Please find below two more stories about Portugal from Wyld Family Travel. We loved our times spent in Portugal and hope you do too. Just click the image to be taken to the article.