In the beautiful church of the Carmelites of Faro (Igreja do Carmo), a chapel stands with walls that are lined with skulls and bones to remind wonderers that life is ephemeral. At the entrance to this striking place an inscription writes: "Stop and think about your destiny". Let's dive deeper and discover this Chapel of the Bones.
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Church of the Carmelites, the first stage of the visit
Igreja de Carmo is a stunning church in the historic district of Faro dating back to the 18th century. It boasts incredible design, with its imposing luminous facade in a baroque style. When you enter the building, you can admire a set of finely carved altars made of gilded wood, combined with complex wooden sculptures all around.
However, we explore further as this extraordinary venue hides a famous chapel in a garden at the back of the church...
La Capela dos Ossos: the Chapel of the Bones
In 1816, the Chapel of the Bones was built. The neoclassical style leaves you speechless. Ornaments are made from bones, exhumed from the overcrowded cemetery of Faro in the 19th century and belong to the long-dead monks, abbesses and other ecclesiastical dignitaries.
Does it bring a certain awareness to life's impermanence in the face of these 1,245 human skulls? It is moving to realize that each skull represents an individual who has once been a thinker with history and memories. We invite you to approach this experience not as a morbid attraction but more as an opportunity to confront the reality of life and its transient nature.
In any case, the entire chapel is remarkably well preserved, thanks to its careful construction, moderate climate and the fresh air that flows freely between the large doorways.
The chapel is open from Monday to Friday, from 10:00 to 13:00 and from 15:00 to 17:30. On Saturdays, it is open from 10 am to 1 pm and closed on Sundays. The entrance fee to the church is €2.00 and the duration of the visit is usually 20 minutes. Igreja do Carmo is located in the north of the centre of Faro, only 7 minutes walk from the port.
If this visit is your kind of thing, then there is a much bigger bone chapel in Evora (outside the Algarve, 2.5 hours by car from Faro when taking the road to the north). It was built in the 16th century by Franciscans and is larger, darker with 5,000 skeletons. Two bodies, including that of a child, are suspended from chains, accompanied with words from Ecclesiastes (7:1-6) on the ceiling: ‘Melior est dies mortis die nativitatis’; The day of death is better than the day of birth.
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In the meantime, rejoice, you are still alive and the Algarve is reaching out to you! It is the opportunity to experience, albeit a little bit on the odd side. While there will be plenty of strolling, swimming and relaxing to do, maybe consider this thrilling adventure.
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