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Igreja de Sao Francisco (Evora, Portugal)

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Church of St. Francis located in Evora, Portugal

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      23.11.2010 21:18
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      An interesting way to spend an afternoon

      Evora; one of the Alentejo's more historic cities is full of ancient buildings, museums and scores of churches. The church of Saint Frances (Igreja de Sao Francisco), situated in the Praca 1 de Maio and open daily is a strange building. For a start, it is enormous and my immediate impression was that this was of Gothic origin but having walked around the outside I could see some Moorish influences particular the minarets that feature on the front facade. There are interesting conical shaped battlements also on the facade as well as some fine but rather disturbing gargoyles.

      Before reaching the front portal you have to walk through several strong and sturdy arches built of what looks to me like red sandstone. To touch, these arches have a lovely smooth feeling and I did notice that not one arch was of the same design. Some were pointed, twisted, and others had been formed in the shape of a horseshoe.

      On reaching the front entrance remember to look up to the top of the doorway - here is a large pelican which is the emblem of the Portuguese King Joao II. Inside, the church is really huge and I wouldn't like to guess its proportions - let's just say it is colossal and the nave is also extremely wide, one of the widest and largest in Portugal. The day we visited the church only a few visitors were inside and the building was very silent. There was an eeriness about the atmosphere inside probably generated because of its enormous proportions. Walking down the aisle was a bit uncomfortable - I suddenly felt like a very small person and all I could think of was Lilliput and Gullivers Travels.

      The decorative styles inside the church are a mixture of gilded woodwork and gold tiles (talha dourado) which is very popular in Portuguese churches. Both styles are very impressive and manage to create canvasses that are both rich in colour and quality but are also impressive artistically. My favourite place in the church is in one of the trancepts where there is a side altar decorated with statues made from gold, and adorning the panels are paintings by Flemish artists of the 16th century. My first impression of this altar was that it was a little too flamboyant but having got close up and studied the intricate artwork and colourings I fell in love with it.

      Now, anyone who is familiar with Portuguese history and knows something about the country's churches will know that hidden away in this church in Evora is a macabre attraction; a Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones). I think most visitors come especially to see this attraction rather than the rest of the church. So what's it like? Well, I think it's very spooky.

      The chapel was built in the 16th century and contains bones of over 5,000 bodies (that's a lot of bones!) taken from local convents totally covering the walls and pillars. The bones and skulls and other parts of bodies are not just placed separately on the walls but cemented together; there are two full skeletons hanging on a wall which very nearly scared me to death. It was like a walk through a ghost train. I suppose you could say it was fascinating which it was/is but I felt very uncomfortable and was curious why there wasn't any strange odour because I expected the chapel to be a bit smelly but it wasn't. Also, I wanted to know who the bones belonged to - where they from the bodies of ordinary working people, priests, nuns, soldiers? I never did find out as there wasn't a lot of information at hand and the only snippets I found out was by asking various people within the church who gave different answers. It seems that there are lots of different legends pertaining to this chapel. What was really scarey was that I would be walking along in the chapel and then suddenly look up and scores of skulls with dried out eye sockets would be staring down at me from the mouldings in the ceiling. Not for the faint-hearted, if you ask me. I have seen a few 'Chapel of Bones' in my time and love the one in Kutna Hora and the Capuchin Crypt in Rome but this one in Evora is especially classy and not just thrown together to create an effect.

      To see the Capela dos Ossos you will have to pay a small admission fee of 1 Euro.

      The Chapel and the Igreja de Sao Francisco are open Mon-Sat 9am12:45pm & 2:305:45pm, Sun: 10am - 12.45pm & 2.30- 5.45pm.

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