Chapel of Bones by E. E. King (June 2021)
Updated: Jun 15
The chapel of bones in the tiny town of Saro, Portugal had been built from the femurs and skulls of over one thousand monks who once served the city. The bones had been exhumed in the 18th century from Saro’s overcrowded cemetery and now form the walls and ceiling of the narrow sanctuary.
Many of the skulls have fallen from the outer walls, worn down by wind, rain and the relentless passage of time, but others grow and fill their places.
If any visitors are rude enough, or observant enough, to wonder why the skulls seem to regenerate, the current monks of the chapel cross themselves and shuffle backward, whispering about miracles. Miracles, after all, do not need to be good, they simply need to be unnatural.
But there is nothing supernatural in the continual sprouting of bones. It’s one of the oldest stories there is.
Tomas Garibaldi was born in the little town of Saro, Portugal. He was a good boy with large dreams. He gave his body to God, his soul to Christ and joined the order of the Franciscans.
But God did not reward him. No, his body cried out for pleasure. And despite his denial, his chapel, the chapel of bones, was falling into ruin. Every year, skulls crumbled. Femurs fell to dust and the walls of worship weakened.
Timmy was his first, an altar boy delicate as a feather. There was something delicious in his cries. But they were loud. Tomas silenced them with a large, meaty hand. And then the boy lay still.
What to do with the body?
It came to him as loud as the second coming. A way to satisfy his flesh and to preserve his church. It was a miracle. And God would forgive him his sins. He was rebuilding the church. He was the rock.
He soaked the body in washing powder and enzyme, then sealed it in a coffin below the rectory where putrefying bacteria consumed the soft tissue cells. It took about ten days. His final touch, a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide achieved perfect whiteness.
And in the altar, where the skull of some unknown friar had fallen to dust, Tomas affixed his first skull. Timmy’s clean bones glinted in the sun like the purest offering.
The chapel would be saved. God was in his heaven. All was right with the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
E.E. King is a painter, performer, writer, and naturalist – she’ll do anything that won’t pay the bills, especially if it involves animals.
Ray Bradbury called her stories, “marvelously inventive, wildly funny and deeply thought-provoking. I cannot recommend them highly enough.”
King has been published widely, most recently in Clarkesworld and On Spec.
Check out paintings, writing, musings and books at www.elizabetheveking.com and amazon.com/author/eeking or follow her on twitter (https://twitter.com/ElizabethEvKing) or Facebook (facebook.com/pages/EE-King). You can also find more from her on https://whatsinanafterlife.wordpress.com/.