No, Portugal has not opened a church made with the skulls of 5,000 Muslims

Viral social media post discusses alleged international campaign targeting Islamic countries

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Claim: A church in Portugal constructed using the skulls of 5,000 Muslims has been opened to tourists. The development is part of a wider campaign to psychologically intimidate Muslims and stop the formation of an Islamic bloc of countries.

Fact: Capela dos Ossos, which is not a church but a chapel, is built from the skulls of around 1,000 devoted monks, not 5,000 Muslims. The chapel’s construction was intended to reflect the impermanence of life on earth.

On 29 March 2022, Soch Fact Check was forwarded a viral WhatsApp message written in Urdu and claiming that a church in Portugal constructed using the skulls of 5,000 Muslims has been opened to tourists. The text further alleges that the development is part of a wider conspiracy against Muslims and Islamic countries, including Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Qatar, Iran, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia.

The text, which has been translated from Urdu to English, is reproduced as follows:

A church made of Muslim skulls and skeletons has been opened to tourists. The name of this church is Capela Dosossos.

It is located in the Portuguese city of Évora. It was built by Pope ‘Francis Connie’ entirely from the skulls and bones of Muslims killed in Andalusia. On its walls hang the withered bodies of two children who had been strangled to death and then dried.

It was built using the skeletons of 5,000 Muslims who were killed for not converting to Christianity after the fall of Andalusia. The church has been opened to tourists especially at this time in order to psychologically intimidate Muslims and stop the forming of an Islamic bloc consisting of Muslim countries Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Qatar, Iran, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

The European and Western countries have succeeded in their conspiracy to the extent that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have backed off from joining this alliance, while Iran is still in doubt [or hesitating]. Russia also dislikes Turkey’s growing influence.

Muslims! Learn from looking at this church that these Jews and Christians can never be your friends. Leave their friendships. Do not take up arms against your own. That is for the betterment of all of us and the entire Muhammadan Ummah [Muslim community].

The message was accompanied by 22 pictures of walls full of skeletal remains.

Fact or fiction?

Soch Fact Check looked up Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones, on the Lonely Planet website’s Portugal section. According to the website, “The walls and columns of this mesmerising memento mori (reminder of death) are lined with the bones and skulls of some 5000 people. This was the solution found by three 17th-century Franciscan monks for the overflowing graveyards of churches and monasteries.”

More information was also found in ‘Lonely Planet: Best of Portugal’, a guide published by Australian travel guide book company Lonely Planet. The book states, “Capela dos Ossos in Faro was built at the back of a church called Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo. The church was completed in 1719.”

“Accessed through the church at the back, the 19th-century Capela dos Ossos is built from the bones and skulls of over 1,000 monks as a reminder of earthly impermanence,” the guide adds.

Further, the LiveScience website states that a lack of space in the Igreja de Sao Francisco’s churchyard is one of the reasons why the Capela dos Ossos was built. According to the website, bones were exhumed from the graveyard and cemented into the structure by the Franciscan monks managing the place. There is no mention of the skeletons belonging to Muslims.

“The chapel also houses two partially skeletal, partially mummified bodies, of one adult and one child, which used to hang from ropes from the ceiling but now rest in glass cases,” the website adds.

The misleading text in question also states that the chapel was built by Pope ‘Francis Connie’. However, according to the research carried out by Soch Fact Check, the chapel was not built by or under the orders of a pope, nor has there ever been a Pope ‘Francis Connie’.

Capela dos Ossos, according to the Atlas Obscura, is a part of the Royal Church of St. Francis and it was designed to provide “a helpful place to meditate on the transience of material things in the undeniable presence of death”. This is considered especially important given that Évora, the city in which the chapel is located, was known for its wealth in the early 1600s.

Earlier, in 2020, AFP Fact Check investigated a similar viral post from Indonesia.

Soch Fact Check, therefore, concludes that the viral posts on Facebook and Twitter claiming that a church in Portugal made of the skulls of 5,000 Muslims has opened to tourists as part of a campaign against the Islamic world are false.

Virality

Soch Fact Check conducted a CrowdTangle analysis for the period from 1 January 2022 to the date of reporting using the following search terms:

  • “مسلمانوں کی کھوپڑیوں اور ڈھانچوں سے بنے چرچ کو سیاحوں کےلیے کھول دیا گیا ھے۔اس کلیسا کا نام Capela Dosossos ہے۔”
  • “مسلمانوں کی کھوپڑیوں اور ڈھانچوں سے بنے چرچ کو سیاحوں کےلیے کھول دیا گیا”

The first search term yielded more than 120 Facebook posts, which received close to 3,700 interactions. The second one, meanwhile, turned up almost 4,000 interactions across over 150 posts.

The first relevant post in 2022 appeared in a public Facebook group called ‘Muhammad Ali bhai Followers ( Student ) group karachi’. Prior to that, in 2020, Facebook page ‘Ertugrul Ghazi International Foundation’ shared a post, accompanied by two pictures and a caption that included the phrases, “Look at the history of hatred” and “Then they say Islamic terrorism !!!!”.

Conclusion: The viral message circulating on WhatsApp and in posts on social media about Portugal opening a church made from the skulls of 5,000 Muslims to tourists as part of campaign targeting Muslim countries is false. The bones cemented into the structure came from monks and others buried in a cemetery in the Portuguese city of Évora.

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