A Personal Rumination on the Parisian Catacombs

Last summer during my visit to France, I had the honor of visiting the catacombs underneath Paris. I was expecting its bones to be artfully arranged in macabre works of art - patterns of femurs, spirals of skulls, archways of curling vertebrae, perhaps some wall torches like the ones used in video games. But my fantasy was not to be. Instead the walls were filled with (or made of?) row upon row of bones:

There is a similarity in arrangement, no?

It was touching to see that strangers had taken the time to house the remains of random Europeans who they didn't even know, and create plaques/gravestones and the occasional heart or pedestal out of bones (even if it's only the surface that is arranged so artfully - behind the artful exterior is a jumble of miscellaneous ribs and hands and the like). Yet would they have bothered to keep the bones of their enemies, or non-Parisians? Did a simple dump in the river suffice for slain enemies? In Christianity, isn't everyone equal upon death? Or does that only apply to souls and not their mortal remnants?

The lack of a lower jaw on many skulls created an interesting expression. It was something between boredom and skepticism; I could almost see the eyebrows arching on half the faces, as if they had better things to do than sit around in stacks for all eternity. Maybe they wondered where their bottom jaws had walked off to.

When I was little I wondered if everyone dies smiling, because skulls grin when their jaws are intact. I realized that was stupid since plenty of people die in less-than-happy circumstances (the vivid books I read offered plenty of possibilities), so their odds of dying with smiles on their faces are pretty slim. It was still a nice thought though, to think that ultimately everyone is smiling on the inside. In a literal sense they sure are.


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