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Parisian Corpses from 1220-1789  

Paris in the 13th Century transformed itself from feudal estates to those the church and state, with the land and power divided equally. Phillipe Augustus (1180-1223) begins public works such as the Cimtiere des Saints Innocents and the masonry fortification around Paris to relieve congestion.

The wealthy dead were buried in cemeteries in and around churches, so they would have better luck in the afterlife. The rest, a wide social group, were relegated to mass graves. The largest was the Cimetiere des Saints Innocents, which later was emptied into the Parisian catacombs due to the stench of the rotting corpses. Strangely enough, Saints Innocents was a popular spot for lovers, merchants and preachers. Phillipe Auguste established the royal gallows of Montfaucon north of Paris, serving not only as the gallows but also the town dump. Thousands of people were hung there; those that died while being tortured were left hanging to rot until their bones fell. Their remains would then be dumped into a pit along with the household waste, excrements and rubble. Like the Christian denial of burial to criminals, the smell that emanated down to Paris served as a subtle deterrent to crime. This practice also continued well into the 18th Century. Parent-Duchatelet, the early 19th century hygienist, refers to Montfaucon as the "Epicenter of Stench."

Although the execution of criminals no longer occured at Montfaucon in the 18th century, bodies still were dumped there along with the garbage, including the bodies of the people beheaded during the French Revolution. After the revolution, the christian denial of burial to criminals ceased; however, the ties of Montfaucon with unimaginable horrors remained.

 

Felix Nadar photo of the catacombs 1861 Catacomb visits are at Place D'Enfer-Rocherau

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