I guess I am one of the very few for which looking at skulls in the Catacombs of Paris means a great holiday – yet I do know that my daughter and my favorite author, Kathy Reichs, fall in the same category. Bones are the very last of our earthly traces and a proof of the existence of life itself. Bones symbolize that life is indestructible and they symbolize resurrection too (in Jewish tradition). Yet bones constantly remind us of our own mortality and of our feeble presence in this world.
Ahead of Halloween, I invite you to join me in a contemplation of death, life and immortality as we walk through a historical location, the Catacombs of Paris.
And down we go. 20 meters underground.
This ossuary, containing the remains of millions of Parisians, is not what one might imagine, even after researching and viewing various images online.
A lifeless, gloomy, never-ending labyrinth. Life is suddenly a precious commodity here.
These pictures have not been altered.
And even further we go. There is no turning back now…
The Catacombs of Paris are a time-travel place no one bargained for:
Feels like “Death lived there and none of them wanted to meet her that night.”Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
We are reminded that life goes on above the ground. Are we remembered, down here, underneath Rue Hallé?
The first wall of skulls and bones knocked the breath out of my lungs:
And then, this. Suddenly, a wind blasts through the Parisian Catacombs and I am chilled to the bone:
“whenever he would wake up cold and shivering, he would know he’d just felt death’s icy breath on his skin and that he escaped her again.”Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
“Ils furent ce que nous sommes,(Lamartine)
Poussière, jouet du vent;
Fragiles comme des hommes.
Faibles comme le néant.”
“They were once as we are now,
Dust, trinkets in the wind;
As fragile as humankind.
As frail as the void.”
Human bones are light ivory with a touch of brown, but when exposed to soil and natural pigments or minerals in the soil they change color.
I stand 1m 65cm tall. This mountain of human bones and skulls was at my eye level, nearly touching the ceiling of the Parisian Catacombs:
And further we go, quietly.
Which way? Death is all around us. Overpowering.
“his black robe swaying with every step like a death flag…”Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
It gets much darker than this:
Memento Creatoris tui in diebus juventutis tuae… “Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth”Ecclesiastes xii: 1
A forgotten anatomy lesson: a view inside the frontal and parietal bones:
The Catacombs are a never-ending maize. I need out.
“They followed on the stony path knowing it lead to a place where death ruled.”Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
Until we found the stairs going up, towards life, light and hope.
Thank you for joying me.