Évora … the magnificent church of tiles verses the macabre chapel of bones

Almost every tourist to the Portuguese city of Évora will have visited the Capela dos Ossos – a small sixteenth century chapel lined from floor to ceiling with the bones of locals past. Few however, will have visited the other public ossuary in town, nor indeed would have even known that a second one existed.

The inscription above the entrance to the 'Capela dos Ossos' translates as "We bones that are here, we are waiting for yours". Hopefully the wait for mine will be long

The inscription above the entrance to the ‘Capela dos Ossos’ translates as “We bones that are here, we are waiting for yours”. Hopefully the wait for mine will be long

Inside Évora's famous chapel of bones

Inside Évora’s famous chapel of bones

There are believed to be over five thousand skeletal remains lining the walls of this interior chapel behind Évora's Igreja de São Francisco (Church of Saint Francis)

There are believed to be over five thousand skeletal remains lining the walls of this interior chapel behind Évora’s Igreja de São Francisco (Church of Saint Francis)

Some sources say the chapel was created by local Franciscan monks to remind people to celebrate 'the bare bones' of life rather than just the material aspects of it

Some sources say the chapel was created by local Franciscan monks to remind people to celebrate ‘the bare bones’ of life rather than just the material aspects of it

Others believe it was merely an effective space-saving (and fund-raising) solution by the monks to the over-crowded burial grounds in the area at the time

Others believe it was merely an effective space-saving (and fund-raising) solution by the monks to the over-crowded burial grounds in the area at the time

A column of bones? It must be a spinal column (hawh-hawh!)

A column of bones? It must be a spinal column (hawh-hawh!)

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Capela dos Ossos, Chapel of Bones, entrance inside

Capela dos Ossos, Chapel of Bones, collection of bones over doorway

Opposite Évora’s Roman Temple stands the Igreja de São João. Halfway down the nave of this church, in between the prayer pews, a trap door reveals a small cavernous space under the floor where another set of bones lie.

The trap door to the ossuary inside the Church of Saint John the Evangelist

The trap door to the ossuary inside the Church of Saint John the Evangelist

The bones are believed to be of local monks from the fifteenth century. Further underground here - but not open to the public's gaze - are the tombs of the dukes of Cadaval. The present duke still owns and worships in this church today

The bones are believed to be of local monks from the fifteenth century. Further underground here – but not open to the public’s gaze – are the tombs of the dukes of Cadaval. The present duke still owns and worships in this church today

This ossuary is obviously much smaller and is not laid out so decoratively as the one inside the Church of Saint Francis, so understandably it doesn’t draw the same level of interest as the Capela. But the Church of Saint John the Evangelist does have something else and something just as unique to tempt visitors to its door: beautiful decorative tiles traditional in Portugal, known as azulejos… and it has them in abundance.

The stunning azulejos of the Church of Saint John the Evangelist

The stunning azulejos of the Church of Saint John the Evangelist

These stunning tiles, covering the whole interior of the church, were made in the eighteenth century by one of Portugal's most famous tile-makers of the time: Antonio de Oliveira Bernardes

These stunning tiles, covering the whole interior of the church, were made in the eighteenth century by one of Portugal’s most famous tile-makers of the time: Antonio de Oliveira Bernardes

A knight on the tiles: St Anthony of Padua (also known as the 'Faithful Knight') portrayed on this azulejo

A knight on the tiles: St Anthony of Padua (also known as the ‘Faithful Knight’) portrayed on this azulejo

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igreja-de-sao-joao-azulejos-around-dukes-balcony

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igreja-de-sao-joao-azulejos-arch-around-altar

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In the sacristy are further and older examples of azulejos, the oldest fragment being this one

In the sacristy are further and older examples of azulejos, the oldest fragment being this one

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Useful information

The Chapel of Bones and the Church of Saint John the Evangelist are opened daily to the public and are sign posted throughout the city. There is a small entrance fee required to gain entry to both.

The entrance to the chapel is around the back of the main Church of Saint Francis, and your ticket will also gain you access to the floors above where a huge and fascinating array of nativity scenes from around the world are presently (2016) being exhibited. The views from to the roof terraces are also stunning.

Hold on to your ticket for the Church of Saint John the Evangelist as it also entitles you to entry into the Duke’s palace next door. The palace isn’t palatial nor the most splendid in Portugal, but there are some interesting displays both contemporary and classical in some of the rooms. What the palace also has is possibly the best view of the Roman Temple anywhere in the city.

As seen from the Duke of Cadaval's palace roof terrace

As seen from the Duke of Cadaval’s palace roof terrace


There are over ninety stones in the collection

Évora and the Portuguese Stonehenge


Others believe the figures represent the first local victims of the Spanish Inquisition who were stationed here during the fifteenth century

Évora: a cork-ing place to visit with its strange stone giants and preserved Roman ruins


Mosteiro de Sao Vicente da Fora Lisboa, Monastery of Saint Vicente de Fora Lisbon, azulejos monastery, cloister tiled sectionLisbon: views for miles and decorative tiles at the Mosteiro de Sao Vicente da Fora


Just over half the skulls in Hallstatt's Beinhaus (around 600) have been decorated, named and dated, a tradition that began in the eighteenth century

Hallstatt: the home of Austria’s bone house


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