A structure with interiors covered completely in human bones – sounds like the stuff that scary houses are made of, right? But believe it or not, it is actually a place of worship. Capela dos Ossos, or the Chapel of Bones, is located next to the Church of St. Francis in the medieval Portuguese town of Evora. The 16th century chapel is a large room that has been adorned with the bones of over 5,000 monks.
The decision to use human bones as building material for a church is certainly an unusual one, but there’s a story to justify it. It seems that in the 16th century, Evora had about 43 cemeteries that took up way too much land. When the decision was made to destroy some of these cemeteries, the corpses of 5,000 monks were exhumed in an effort to save their souls from condemnation. It was decided that the remains of these monks would be relocated to the Capela dos Ossos. However, the existing monks soon realized that it might be a better idea to put these bones on display, rather than behind closed doors. These monks were concerned about the societal values of the wealthy town of Evora. So they set about creating a place for meditation, a place where the undeniable reminder of death would help people transcend the material world.