We decided to check out the Paris Catacombs one afternoon regardless of the hour long line. Six million people’s bones are laid to rest here among 200 miles of tunnel. Only a small portion of the catacombs are accessible, but you occasionally catch a glimpse of these other sections through iron bars.
People have been drawn to this place for all kinds of unauthorized events – raves and parties, secret tours, art exhibitions and concerts, and even a secret cinema.
The catacombs were constructed after the first Christian cemetery, Les Innocents in Paris, was overwhelmed. The plague of 1418 brought 50,000 bodies to rest there in only 5 weeks. Then the 100 Years War followed, leading to desperate situations within the city. The stench of the cemetery became overpowering, nearby wines and cheeses began to ruin, and eventually a cellar wall collapsed filling with partially decomposed bodies. It was time for a solution.
The catacombs were disorganized in the beginning, but later Louis-Etienne Hericart de Thury made it into a mausoleum. He arranged the bones in decorative formation, adding the inscriptions and monumental tablets.
Ella was utterly appalled by the whole idea and ready to punch the disrespectful people picking up bones to hold for selfies, completely disregarding the signs saying not to touch. The place was disconcerting, but I think that was the point of the maker. Of course, all the engravings were in French; but we looked up a few later and thought we’d share below:
“What enclosures are open! What narrow places occupied between these walls, the dust of the races! It’s in these forgotten areas, It is among these tombs
that time and death come to cross their scythes that the dead, piled high and pressed ’neath the earth! The number here is nothing, the crowd is solitary.”
“Thus passes everything on earth – Spirit, beauty, talent, grace . Such is a short-lived flower , that’s blown away by the slightest breeze.”
“Whichever way you turn, death’ll be waiting for you. Think that every day will be your last.”
“Blessed is he who keeps ever in sight the hour of his death and is always ready to die.”
“If at times you’ve seen the death of a man, remember always that the same fate awaits you.”
“For me…to die is a gain.”
“It is sometimes better to die than to live.”
“Unless the grain dies, It remains alone; But if it were to die, It would bring forth much fruit.”
“Thus all changes, thus all passes; So, ourselves, we pass, Alas! Without leaving any a trace.”
“To death, we relinquish all.”
“Death awaits you most surely; In certainty but the day of death, From always keeping our mind on guard, Man escapes the last light.”