Looking at Skulls in the Catacombs of Paris

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 the Catacombs of Paris.
And down we go. 20 meters underground.

A spiral staircase taking us 20 meters underground into the Catacombs of Paris
A spiral staircase taking us 20 meters underground into the Catacombs of Paris

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.

A tunnel underground, Catacombs of Paris, where life is suddenly a precious commodity.
Life is suddenly a precious commodity here.

And even further we go. There is no turning back now…

The Catacombs of Paris, an underground labyrinth. No turning back now.
The Catacombs of Paris, an underground labyrinth. No turning back now.

The Catacombs of Paris are a time-travel place no one bargained for:

1876 stamped in a brick: , Catacombs of Paris officially opened to the public.
1876 stamped in a brick: , Catacombs of Paris officially opened to the public.

Feels like “Death lived there and none of them wanted to meet her that night.”

Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
An endless pit in the Catacombs of Paris
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?

A reminder that we are underneath Rue Hallé in the Catacombs of Paris.

The first wall of skulls and bones knocked the breath out of my lungs:

The first wall of skulls and bones in the Paris  Catacombs.

And then, this. Suddenly, a wind blasts through the Parisian Catacombs and I am chilled to the bone:

Skulls in the Parisian Catacombs

“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,
Poussière, jouet du vent; 
Fragiles comme des hommes. 
Faibles comme le néant. 
Paris Catacombs

“Ils furent ce que nous sommes,
Poussière, jouet du vent;
Fragiles comme des hommes.
Faibles comme le néant.”

(Lamartine)

“They were once as we are now,
Dust, trinkets in the wind;
As fragile as humankind.
As frail as the void.”

Human skull, close up - Paris Catacombs

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:

A mountain of human bones and skulls standing 1m 60cm high in the Catacombs of Paris

And further we go, quietly.

A cross in the Catacombs of Paris

Which way? Death is all around us. Overpowering.

Catacombs of Paris, a real maize

“his black robe swaying with every step like a death flag…”

Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
A heart made out of skulls. Paris Catacombs
A heart of skulls to show the love for those departed.

It gets much darker than this:

A cross and three mounds of bones in the Paris Catacombs.

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:

Skull, view inside the frontaland parietal bones

The Catacombs are a never-ending maize. I need out.

towards exit. Paris Catacombs

“They followed on the stony path knowing it lead to a place where death ruled.”

Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
A light shaft. Paris Catacombs
Light. Life.

Until we found the stairs going up, towards life, light and hope.

Exit, stairs going up, Paris Catacombs

Thank you for joying me.

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 5 stars reviews
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 5 stars reviews
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