Faro Part I: Carmo Church and The Chapel of Bones

Here it is at last! My first post about my trip to Portugal. Only took me 2 weeks this time, instead of a month like the last few. These are the perils of going on so many adventures in between writing papers, I suppose.

So, I have a confession: I wasn’t completely overwhelmed with excitement for this trip. I mean, I was excited–hello, PORTUGAL–but it was also kind of a chore since I had to go for my visa issue and I wouldn’t have any friends to enjoy it with. That, and I was also completely terrified. This was the first time I traveled outside of my cozy little comfort zone. Yes, I am living in a foreign country right now, but at least they speak the same language as me. In Portugal, I would be on my own in a country where I don’t speak the language. I was all sorts of nervous inside.

But that week far exceeded my expectations. Portugal is beautiful, the people are wonderful (and kindly spoke English to me and taught me a few phrases in Portuguese), and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I flew to Portugal bright and early on Tuesday morning, leaving behind cold, rainy weather in favor of sunshine and blue skies. The world’s craziest taxi driver sped me down narrow, one-way streets that looked more like sketchy back alleys than actual roads and dropped me off at my hotel.

That first impression of Faro was a bit nerve-wracking. The city is full of colorful old buildings with peeling paint, doors locked with heavy chains, and graffiti everywhere. It did make me a bit wary, and I was honestly tempted to lock myself in my hotel room and hide all week.

But I’m no chicken, so I plucked up my courage, grabbed my trusty camera, and headed out the door to find a church I had read about online, La Igreja de N. Senhora do Monte do Carmo–known by those of us with limited lung capacities as Carmo Church.

When I first arrived, the door was locked and I thought I had missed my opportunity to go inside, but the friendly homeless man on the front step told me in broken English that it opened in an hour. So I wandered around for a bit and by the time the church opened, I had come to the conclusion that the condition of the city had more to do with its age than anything nefarious or sinister.

I finally made it into the church, and it was definitely worth the wait. The chapel is decorated with huge, ornate gilded altars and relics. The amount of detail in this place is just mind-boggling.

I have really grown to love visiting houses of worship for other faiths. Appreciating their devotion to God gives me a chance to reflect on my own devotion and the truth I believe in.

I left the main church and followed the signs out to the courtyard, where I met a very talkative tortoiseshell cat. He kept meowing at me and tried to get me to follow him up some secret back stairs–presumably to the place where his food bowl resides. He stopped talking to me when I didn’t take the bait.

And then came the part I had been waiting for, the thing that had intrigued me about this church since before I even left for Portugal: La Capela de Ossos, or Chapel of Bones.

It was… interesting. La Capela de Ossos was built built in 1816 out of the exhumed bones of 1200 Carmelite monks, and stands as a reminder of “the fate that awaits us all.” The thousands of femurs, tibiae, and skulls embedded in the walls were grim indeed. Fascinating (in a creepy kind of way) and definitely unique.

I’m trying to get all my pictures from Faro up over the next few days, so stay tuned for a magical story about a handsome ex-footballer and a very, very flattered Jess.

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