This trip to Paris was the second time I’ve been to the city. None of us had been before, so we all decided to make it a priority this time.
We got up early-ish and took the metro to the Catacombs. The Catacombs open at 10am, but I’d advise getting in line around 9:30-9:45am. It’s a popular spot so going early pays you back on time. When we exited our tour, the line was wrapped around the block and was a much longer wait time than we experienced.
I had assumed the feeling I’d get from visiting the catacombs was going to include the following: eerieness, creeped out/freaked out, spooky.
But the feelings I experienced were much different. Solemn even.
The tour begins with you winding down a long spiral staircase, deep down into the pit of the catacombs. These underground ossuaries hold the remains of more than six million people. The ossuary that holds the bodies was created because the city of Paris had a problem with overflowing cemeteries. After a series of basement wall collapses from the Saint Innocents-cemetery-quarter in 1774, this added a sense of urgency to the overflowing cemetery problem they had. Beginning in 1786, workers would proceed down the streets nightly to drop off covered wagons full of remains from the Paris cemeteries.
The catacombs were mostly forgotten, but in the 19th century they became a place of “novelty” to host private events, concerts, tours for the wealthy. It was opened to the public in 1874.
Through DNA testing of the remains they’ve discovered that many of the people in the catacombs died from various diseases and plagues. Many were also from mass graves that contained the forgotten of society.
After you meander through the dark stone hallway and the exhibits, you see your first section of bones. And as you go along, they just build upon each other. Row after row, wall after wall of femurs, moss covered craniums, busted bones, and stones from the early days of the catacomb (1700-1800s) that share the details of this group of corpses.
As you slowing meander and wind, moving past these millions of bodies, you begin to feel the same way you feel when under a star speckled sky in the middle of the wilderness – very small.
I was not so much creeped out or afraid, but more so reminded how small and insignificant we are in the history of this world. How many souls have come and gone on this wild human experience we are lucky enough to each have. Each corpse had a life full of unique experiences, had a family, a community, a favorite color or song. I thought first of the bible quote, “By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return” –
But then as I looked at a moss-covered skull under the dank dim ossuary light, Olivia turned to me and whispered it best as she quoted the 1989 movie, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure:
“All we are is dust in the wind,” dude.
Full scene here:
[Bill and Ted are in Ancient Greece]
Bill: [approaching Socrates] How’s it going? I’m Bill, this is Ted. We’re from the future.
Ted: [whispering to Bill] Now what?
Bill: I dunno. Philosophize with him!
Ted: [clears his throat, to Socrates] “All we are is dust in the wind,” dude.
[Socrates gives them a blank stare]
Bill: [scoops up a pile of dust from the basin before them and lets it run out of his hand] Dust.
[he blows the remainder away]
Ted: [points at Socrates] Dude.
The catacombs reminded me that all we are is dust in the wind. Life is short – so live the life you were meant to live! And be grateful for the allotted time and loved ones you have while you’re on this journey.