The Chapel of Bones: Lessons From the Crypt

Heads you lose...

Heads you lose…

There’s only so much sun and sand you can take.  Right? So, as a diversion, we drove 3 hours north from the Algarve into Alentejo – the breadbasket of Portugal, stopping in the small city of Evora. Linda was map-reading.  400 years ago, I’m not convinced she’d have secured a full time navigation job with Columbus. Wait a minute, didn’t he get lost too… on the way somewhere else before he discovered America? Finding somewhere new always provides good material for a family row (“I told you we should have gone left at the last junction”). The outside air temperature was just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the air-con in the rental was struggling to cope (weren’t we all!). But we got there. Eventually.

Converted Monastery: We stayed in an old converted monastery where the modern living conditions were anything but Spartan.  Apparently, in Portuguese tradition, the ‘farm’ was handed down to the eldest son. The 2nd child was then ‘offered up to God’ as a priest, a monk or a nun (not dissimilar to the traditions in Ireland). When the eldest child went into military service against the French or the Spanish and was killed (as often happened), the family inheritance passed to the 2nd child. Through this mechanism the church became fabulously wealthy.  You can’t beat a sustainable business model!  So we were stopping in this exquisite religious development in the ‘middle of nowhere’ with magnificent artifacts, amid tons of gold and marble. Yes, someone has to refloat the Portuguese economy – it’s all about personal effort!

Dead Centre: A couple of miles west – inside the walls of the fortress city – we visited the Chapel of Bones.   The Inscription on the entrance reads as follows:  ‘Nos Ossos Que Aqui Estamos Pelos Vossos Esperamos’ (rough translation: ‘we bones that are here are waiting for yours’). During a time of plague, when huge numbers of townspeople died, they were interred and the skeletons put on display in the church. It was a pragmatic way to cope with the sheer volume of bodies. It was very well organised, skulls in one area, femurs in another and so on. The overall effect was eerie, like one of those awful excavated sites which emerged after the Pol Pot regime was overthrown in Cambodia.

Secondary Purpose: In addition to pragmatism (burying a lot of people cheaply), the Chapel of Bones served a secondary purpose – as a reminder that life is finite. Nothing continues forever.  We are here for a relatively short time – and have to make it count. Our achievements may not make the front Page of the Irish Times. We might not aspire to Olympic ‘Gold’, but we somehow have to find meaning, even where our lives are relatively modest.  When we discover meaning/purpose, we uncover the true source of happiness. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this ‘happiness journey’ needs to be continually worked on. Happiness is a sort of ‘by-product’ of doing something that you really love, rather than an end state in itself e.g. there are limitations. The great Sigmund Freud reminded us that the goal of psychoanalysis was to “turn neurotic misery into ordinary human unhappiness” – so the attainment of happiness is a lifelong quest for most of us.

So What?  After seeing those bones I was struck by the fact that tomorrow we will look back and see that today was actually a happy time. A healthy time. A time when ‘small worries’ became exaggerated in our minds and fashioned into BIG issues ( some of the really big issues actually lie on the road ahead).

Driving Home: The drive ‘home’ to the south coast was relatively straightforward. We only got lost 4 times. Linda was getting much better. Communication in the car was relatively civil (the homeward trip always seems less stressful).  If you are on the wrong side of 40, essentially you are driving home too.  The ‘trick’ is to navigate the last chapters smartly, perhaps smarter than you navigated the early part of your biography.  Getting old is OK, if, side by side with this, you are also getting smart. Hey, that’s what I’m hoping to do!

Have a good one.


Ps Lighter Note: From my son, Cillian (there’s hope for this boy yet!).

Q: Why doesn’t Ray Charles see his friends?


A: Because he’s married!

 ‘Best Joke’ in the Edinburgh Festival:“That’s why I hate Hedgehogs. Why don’t they just share the hedge?”

Best Story this Week: From Tony Brady – one of Dublin’s original (and best) Organisation Development Consultants. Tony’s son-in-law (a fireman) went on a stagg weekend – also to Edinburgh. So, what did his mates ‘do’ on him and was it PC?

When he arrived they handcuffed him to a local midget. Whether he was ‘in role’ or just naturally cranky, the ‘person of short stature’ was a right pain in the ass and wouldn’t agree to anything. It made for an interesting day and night. Ha Ha. That has to be the prank best ever.

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
This entry was posted in Positive Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Chapel of Bones: Lessons From the Crypt

  1. midwifesean says:

    I think what mature veterans of life actually yearn for is the enviable rare ability to take life lightly . I think real wealth is not money, its detachment from trivial worry . Wish I could do it . My kids are rich , and live carefree lives , thankfully unburdened by hunger or poverty but far from abundance . They live in the present . What is the secret , it’s a holy grail to a happy life .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s