It wasn’t long after my arrival in Portugal that I stumbled upon one of the strangest sights I’ve ever witnessed: Faro’s Bones Chapel. Nestled behind the grand and impressive Igreja do Carmo monastery and built with the bones of Carmelite monks, this small chapel has greeted, and creeped out, visitors since its construction in 1816.
But first, you have to make you way through Igreja do Carmo, itself an impressive sight. Built in 1719 and financed using Brazilian gold, the level of intricacy within the main chamber is nothing short of stunning.
As soon as I made my way to the front of the centerpiece though, my eyes couldn’t help but wander down to the elegantly scribbled sign that read “The Bones Chapel”.
After leaving the main hall, I was back outside under the bright but inviting Portuguese sun for a quick second, only to duck back into a small, heavily shadowed room that required me to squint as my eyes adjusted.
As everything started to come into focus, I quickly realized that I was standing right in the middle of the Bones Chapel and had hundreds of skulls staring right back at me.
The overall design, the symmetry, the tiling… All absolutely ghastly and beautiful.
Over the entrance archway, an inscription reads: “Stop here and consider the fate that will befall you.” A small slip of faded paper also reminds visitors that these remains are from around 1200 monks who were exhumed from the monastery’s graveyard to help build the chapel (apparently a popular practice at the time, as a similar bone chapel also exists in Évora, just 200km north of Faro).
If all of that isn’t creepy enough, the chapel now sits right next-door to an elementary school, so the sound of happy kids acted as the soundtrack for my visit.
With that, I thanked the monks for searing an audio/visual tapestry of nightmares that is now firmly planted in my head for the next who-knows-how-many years, and continued on my trek through the streets of Faro.
Located right off the City Center and only around a 10 minute walk from Old Town, the Bones Chapel and Igreja do Carmo are well worth the €2 entrance fee. Especially if like to have trouble falling asleep at night…