The air is thick and heavy. Shadowed corners harbor silent whispers of loss, rendering you speechless with its bearing tone of repugnance. Others around you stand hushed, gaping in odious admiration.
Cloaked in a corner of the town’s heart lies a long-told, secret place. A hidden shrine in the medieval, walled city of Évora. The Capela is special. Loaded with energy, charged by the souls of the dead that line its walls, a retreat of reverence.
In central Portugal, surrounded by orchards, farmland and cork trees, you’ll find it. An homage, created in the 16th century, the chapel was the vision of a Franciscan Monk, wanting to create a setting of meditation and contemplation on the fragility of our human condition. The result is the small, 57 x 33 foot chapel, completely adorned with human remains.
Walking towards the chapel, you feel it, before your eyes are ever laid upon its contents.
Skulls line pillars, pelvises create archways, and femurs stack high, forming the monument’s columns. Bones of over a thousand faithful villagers, reclaimed by these walls, centuries ago. The smell is stale, seasoned with a morbid hint of decay.
The eerie sensation of being watched sends an unmistakable shiver down your spine, with a penetrating gaze from over a thousand muted observers. Their empty eyes, staring through you from behind long deserted sockets.
Taking photos in the room’s low light, often yields strange exposures. Electronic equipment routinely loses power unexplainably. Cameras with fully charged batteries, suddenly turn off, mid-focus, without ever powering down.
Haunting to the senses, the atmosphere is electrifying causing countless emotions to rise and fall to the surface of your mind. Dizzying in its display of architectural anarchy, you leave, not knowing exactly how to feel.
Although I had heard stories of the Capela dos Ossos from other tourists, none of their tales could have prepared me for what I found there. An experience that moved me to my very core, burned into my memory like that of a beautifully bad dream.