European Sweeping

Sao Francisco Church in Évora

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

Sao Francisco is one of seven churches located within the walls of Évora. However, to me, it has a top-ranking feature in terms of being thought-provoking. Situated on one side of the church was a room measuring approximately 50' x 40'. All its interior walls, and the columns supporting the ceiling, were covered with human bones and skulls. They were embedded in some type of plaster, such that they formed a sort of 'bone wallpaper' covering the entire wall surface.


For me, this sight provoked what has turned into an ongoing reflection on the somewhat temporary timeframe we're occupying here in our present life. Looking at the remains of hundreds of people covering a wall can certainly change a person's perspective!

I was also struck by how much larger the average human is, today, than they were when the room was constructed. Although the Portuguese, as a whole, are much smaller than the average American, they are still, on average, much larger than the people whose skulls were embedded in the wall. I was told that this is an example of the size increase in humans that has naturally occurred over the centuries.


If there was a reason why the room was constructed, I wasn't able to discern it, either by asking someone or by reading any of the English-written handouts. As far as I know, the reason is unknown. I can attest that being in this particular room evoked, in me, some deep reflections on the nature of my own life. I couldn't help but feel sorry for these unfortunate souls, even though they've achieved an immortality of sorts. As an alternative, I would definitely prefer cremation. What I couldn't personally fathom, though, is how this room could have been constructed, and consecrated over time, by people who sought to honor their Christian God. We are, indeed, a mysterious species.


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