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Photograph: Manuel Ribeiro
© Paróquia de S.Pedro de Évora


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Name of Monument:
Chapel of Bones in the Old Convent of St. Francis, Évora
Also known as:
Capela dos Ossos
Location:
Évora, Portugal
Date:
Basic structure: around 1515; decoration: 17th–18th century
Denomination / Type of monument:
Religious architecture (funerary chapel)
Artists:
Unknown
Patron(s):
Religious Order of St. Francis (17th–18th centuries)
History:
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.
Description:
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.
How monument was dated:
Stylistic analysis and historical evidence
 
 
Wall covered with bones

Interior

17th–18th century

Unknown

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.
 
 
Column and vault with bones

Interior

17th–18th century

Unknown

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.”
 
 
Inscription on the entrance doorway

Entrance

17th–18th centuries

Unknown

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”).
  Selected bibliography:
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.
Citation of this web page:
Paulo Pereira "Chapel of Bones in the Old Convent of St. Francis, Évora" in Discover Baroque Art. Place: Museum With No Frontiers, 2014. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;BAR;pt;Mon11;19;en
Prepared by: Paulo Pereira
Translation by: Cristina Correia
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PT 19