So excited to have one of my blogging buddies, Stacy Green, here to share her knowledge on the Parisian catacombs. She writes her Thriller Thursdays and finds the creepiest mysteries. And since my main character, Savvy, has her own adventures in this underground maze, I had to invite Stacy! And you know? She’s got a book deal for the fall!
An avid reader of suspense, paranormal, and true crime, Stacy’s first novel, INTO THE DARK, will be released from MuseItUp Publishing in November. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her precocious six-year-old daughter, her supportive husband, and the family’s three obnoxious dogs. For more true crime and paranormal posts, check out Stacy’s Thriller Thursday feature on her blog.
Some of you may know about the storm drains of Las Vegas–an underground labyrinth of dark, dank flood channels doubling as housing for the city’s homeless population. The infamous tunnels play an important role in my debut novel INTO THE DARK. While the Vegas drains are terrifying, there are no scarier–or more fascinating–tunnels than the Catacombs of Paris. Spanning more than 180 miles, the catacombs date back to the twelfth century and are literally filled with the dead.
18th Century Paris was at the heart of the enlightenment, but it was also filthy and overrun with disease. Imagine a bustling culture of the world’s greatest thinkers and artists walking amid garbage, open sewers, and overflowing cemeteries. One of the most affected areas was the Les Halles district, particularly the Saints Innocents Cemetery, known as Les Innocents (the same one Anne Rice used in The Vampire Lestat). Used for nearly ten centuries, improper burial techniques in Les Innocents led to contamination of Les Halles’s ground water and surrounding land.
Victims of the black plaque, epidemics, starvations, of all the wars since the Middle Ages rest in the city’s 200 cemeteries, piled up on several levels in the mass graves of the churches. Every day, new cadavers join the previous ones. Paris is flooded by the dead, the odor is unbearable. — The Paris Catacombs
Paris’s dead were pushing out the living, and officials made a bold decision. Paris is built over large gypsum and limestone quarries mined in the 12th century. Notre Dame and the Louvre are just two of the famous monuments built from the quarries. Over time, the quarries became unstable, and in 1770s, they were repaired to make room for the dead.
In an effort to stop the spread of disease, Paris’s overflowing cemeteries were cleared out and the bones interred within the quarries. Beginning in 1785, work was done under the cover of night and chanting priests accompanied the procession. The quarries house the bones from all the cemeteries of Paris up through the mid 1800s (although some accounts have the transfer stopping as early as 1814).
The catacombs have long been the stuff of legends. A tourist attraction since the 1860s, they were used as mini concert halls and later by members of the French Resistance during World War II. In the rebellious 1980s, young Parisians used the crypts as a place for parties, sneaking into the tunnels through various unmonitored entrances. Over the years, the Catacombs were fortified and areas were sanctioned off for tourists. Only a small part of the tunnels is open to the public, and the main entrances are now guarded, but the enterprising explorer can still sneak their way in via the sewers, metro, and manholes.
The underground labyrinth is complex and confusing. Imagine being deep underground, surrounded by centuries-old bones, with only the tiniest of lights to guide you. Even an accomplished navigator could lose his way, and there are countless stories about people getting lost in the catacombs. Some, like the explorer who claimed he was attacked and dragged off by some sort of monster, are likely the delusions of a man trapped in a terrifying underground dark maze full of bones.
But people have disappeared in the tunnels. Last July, three people were part of a group partying in the crypts. They became separated from their friends and instead of finding their way out wound up going deeper into the maze. They spent two days lost in the dark before they were found and fined for trespassing.
National Geographic writer Neil Shea spent time researching the tunnels with the cataphiles, the people who love to roam the underground world. Shea described the cataphiles as “a loose and leaderless community whose members sometimes spend days and nights below the city.” One cataphile told Shea he came down to the crypts for the freedom. “No boss, no master. Many people come down here to party, some people to paint. Some people to destroy or to create or to explore. We do what we want here. We don’t have rules.”
Could you be a cataphile, spending hours among centuries worth of bones, with your only light source a candle or flashlight? Would you emerge from the Catacombs feeling empowered and alive, or shaken and traumatized like so many others who’ve been lost below?
For more information on the Paris Catacombs, including booking a tour and some excellent pictures, visit Why Go Paris.
Wow! Thanks, Stacy! Creeeepy!
Don’t forget to check out the giveaways this week!
Spencer Brokaw’s The Impenetrable Spy
Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls (paperback)
Cindy M. Hogan’s Watched
What’s the creepiest place you’ve been?