Sunday, June 7, 2009

Friday morning in the empire of the dead

Friday was a perfect Paris morning. Sunny and warm with a bit of a breeze. So Dan and I decided to spend a few hours underground looking at bones. This is quite possibly the first time anyone has ever warned me, "careful, you're brushing up against some dead people," and meant it.

Hands down the creepiest thing I've ever done on a sunny Friday morning.

Toward the end of the 18th century, the government decided to evacuate the Cemetery of the Innocent, which had been used for nearly a thousand years and was causing infection and disease for those living in the area. So the graves were exhumed and the bones carried - only at night - to the quarries of Tombe Issoire while priests led the procession singing the burial service. You couldn't make up a spookier image.

Now for €4 you can walk through the catacombs and take vacation snapshots of people's bones.

The piles of bones are surreal; they look like stacks of firewood, with rows of skulls evenly spaced throughout. There's a stone altar down there, for celebrating what I can only assume is the world's eeriest mass. (Although what better place to eat flesh and drink blood than in an ossuary?)

And as if the heaps of skulls aren't memento mori enough, there are quotations posted everywhere: "think in the morning you might not live until evening, and in the evening that you might not live until morning." Dan continued to demonstrate his knack for the obvious-yet-apt when he read one of the inscriptions and declared, "that's morbid."

1 comment:

  1. I think I would have been worried more about the disease-causing thing... why would the bones have been causing diseases in one place and not in another?