Chapel of Bones in the Old Convent of St. Francis, Évora
Capela dos Ossos
Basic structure: around 1515; decoration: 17th–18th century
Religious architecture (funerary chapel)
Religious Order of St. Francis (17th–18th centuries)
Taking advantage of the room behind the Chapter House in the enormous St. Francis Convent (partially destroyed in the 19th century), the friars decided to set up an iconographic programme displaying the values of Death by way of an organic shell-work like decoration. There is a dry, mummified corpse hanging on one wall possibly to add momentum to the macabre setting. According to anthropological analysis, around 5000 individual remains are recorded here. These were all removed from the graveyard of the convent which once also served the people of Évora.
In spite of its scarce artistic value this chapel remains a popular tourist attraction for visitors to Évora. The setting prevails: a room full of bones geometrically arranged on the walls, vaults and columns with hardly a vacant space. Meticulously arranged, the bones – mostly tibias and fibulas as well as series of skulls, are wainscoting the walls. This fact allows the building to acquire a look of a cave or a forbidden space, and offer visitors an unexpected proximity to the evidence of DEATH, which, thus, is, offered as a spectacle. Even at an international level, the Chapel of Bones is the most visible face of a popular reality throughout all the catholic countries – namely in Italy and Spain with some similarities or replicas in Portugal – as in Monforte, Campo Maior, Faro and Alcantarilha.View Short Description
A room with a quadrangular plan, square columns and a vaulted ceiling, located next to the old Chapter Room in the Convent of St. Francis in Évora. From the 17th century onwards the room was decorated completely – on the columns, vaults and walls – with bones in a fashion similar to “shell-work”.
Stylistic analysis and historical evidence
The Baroque sensibility reinforces a tendency arising from the late Middle Ages, which makes death and even funerals a spectacle aimed at showing the deceased, as far as possible, cheered up until the final destination: his or her grave and eternal resting place. The concept of a Boa Morte “Gentle Death” is the point of the prayers to Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte, whose origins go back to this tradition.
A spectacular image of the shortness of Life and the inevitability of Death. The skull and bones are the earthly evidence of the Death of the Body, in opposition to the aesthetic Joy of Redemption or Salvation. This trend for exhibiting naked bones – so called Morte Secca (“Dry Death”) – encompasses the allegory of Christian meditation: “Life is just a short passage; this world is not the ultimate destiny; the final destiny is the salvation of the soul.”
The detail shows the inscription above the entrance to the Chapel of Bones. It addresses those who enter the chapel, reminding them of the folly of vanity and concentration on mundane affairs, which must give way to an exemplary life and to the denial of earthly belongings. The inscription reads: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos” (“We bones lying here are waiting to be joined by yours”).
Esperança, Frei M. da, , Historia Seráfica da Ordem dos Frades Menores de São Francisco na Provincia de Portugal, Lisbon, Officina Craesbeeckiana, 1656.
Espanca, T., Inventário Artístico de Portugal – Distrito de Évora, Vol. 6, Lisbon, 1966.
Louro, Pe. Henrique da Silva, Capelas de Ossos na Arquidiocese de Évora, Évora, 1992.
Velosco, C., "A Casa dos Ossos" Revista Monumentos, No. 17, September 2002, pp. 37–41.
Paulo Pereira "Chapel of Bones in the Old Convent of St. Francis, Évora" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;BAR;pt;Mon11;19;en
Prepared by: Paulo PereiraPaulo Pereira
AFFILIATION Faculty of Architecture, Technical University of Lisbon
TITLE: University Lecturer
Paulo Pereira holds an MA in Cultural Studies and has been a speaker at numerous seminars and congresses in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, the United States and Brazil. Paulo has co-ordinated and published books about Portuguese art and history, some of which are award winning. He is curator of several exhibitions held in Portugal, Ghent, Brussels and Berlin and been a contributing author for several exhibition catalogues. He has exercised managerial roles within the Town Hall of Lisbon, was Vice President of the Portuguese Heritage Institute (IGESPAR) and is a lecturer at the Technical University of Lisbon (Faculty of Architecture).
Translation by: Cristina CorreiaCristina Correia
AFFILIATION: Eça de Queirós Public High School, Lisbon and MWNF
TITLE: Senior Teacher, Local Co-ordinator and Vice-President of MWNF
Cristina Correia is a History graduate and, since 1985, a Senior Teacher of History at the Eça de Queirós Public High School, Lisbon where she also lectures in Portuguese Language and Culture for non-native speakers. From 1987 to 1998 she was involved with youth affairs, primary prevention and the Camões Institute. She is Vice-President and Local Co-ordinator (Portugal) for MWNF.
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PT 19
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Discover Baroque Art Exhibition(s)Reformation and Counter-Reformation | Religious orders and their function in transmitting the language of the Counter-Reformation
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