Paris: Mortal Remains

A few days ago I was convinced I’d killed my phone by taking it out in the rain. I wouldn’t have missed that much but for the photos from Europe that I hadn’t explicitly saved yet. But it turns out Google Photos has been surreptitiously — well, not really, I knew I set it up but then I forgot — uploading all my photos, so that’s taken care of.

Instead of trying to catch up with all my Paris blog posts, I thought I’d just pick a couple of photos. One of my most interesting — and creepy — moments was down in the Catacombs.

I didn’t exactly connect “ossuary” with what my experience was about to be. So when I walked through some of the initial rooms with the geological and political history of the catacombs, I didn’t expect to see what I did see.

Warning: potentially disturbing imagery. No, for real. I’m putting it under a cut and everything.

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The Catacombs of Paris are, in fact, an ossuary, a place where old bones rest. They were recovered from the Cemetery of the Innocents in 1785, where they were beginning to present a serious health risk. The Catacombs used to be underground quarries, and when they were abandoned for that use, they were turned into the final resting place of thousands of people.

There are a number of reactions one can have to this. It’s creepy, there’s no denying it, but it’s also interesting. There is, however, very little reason for anyone to be taking selfies with the bones.

No, seriously. No selfies with the mortal remains of Parisians.

But it was also sad. It was sad that the entire lives of some people — their secrets, their joys, their desperation, their plans, their achievements — could be reduced to a femur in a stack of femur, yet another skull grinning out at us from a wall of bones.

And then again that’s clearly not all we are. I thought about six degrees of separation and how much closer we are to each other than we can possibly fathom, and wondered if anyone visiting the Catacombs that day was maybe, possibly, potentially, taking a selfie with great-great-great-great-grandmother Louise.

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