Igreja do Carmo

Faro, Portugal | C.1719

Photo Credit: Charlotte Dixon

This grand historical monument in Portugal’s Algarve region had a rocky start. Only 36 years after its completion, a devastating earthquake left the original heavily damaged. In its place, Carmo Church’s quintessentially Baroque façade was flanked by the entranceway’s two Corinthian columns, gilded gold statues of Santa Elias and Santa Teresa, and two iconic bell towers. The interior, which blessedly remained intact, kept consistent the theme of gilded woodwork at its finest.

The intricately carved altars represent several different saints of the Carmelite order. One especially worthy of note is São João Nepomuceno, a parish priest from Prague, known as both an advocate and advisor to the poor, and as the Queen’s private confidante.

He refused to reveal to the King what he had heard in confession–in response, the jealous King set fire to the confessional, and had the priest dragged by carriage and thrown into the Moldavian river. In the place where he fell in the river, five bright stars hovered in the sky above. This is why every likeness of São João Nepomuceno since rendered includes a halo of five stars. His legacy continues, as the patron of confessions and confessors.

If an eerie feeling settles over you as you tread further into Carmo Church, it’s for good reason. The interior’s Capela dos Ossos (Bone Chapel) is purportedly composed of 1,250 Carmelite monk skeletons, with geometric patterns of their remains filling every available surface. And just in case visitors didn’t feel sufficiently spooked, the cautionary guidance is spelled out. Above the entrance it reads: “Stop here and consider, that you will reach this state too.”

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