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Catacombs Of Paris And Rome

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Those in Paris were originally quarries which had existed under the city from the earliest time. In 1774 the Council of State issued a decree for clearing the Cemetery of the Innocents, and for removing its contents, as well as those of other graveyards, into these quarries. These quarries—or catacombs, as they were called — were consecrated with great solemnity on April 7, 1786, and the work of removal from the cemeteries was immediately begun. The bones were brought at night in funeral cars, covered with a pall, and followed by priests chanting the service of the dead. At first the bones were heaped up without any kind of order except that those from each cemetery were kept separate; but in 1810, a regular system of arranging them was commenced, and the skulls and bones were built up along the wall. From the main entrance to the catacombs, which is near the Barriers d'Enfer, a flight of ninety steps descends, at whose foot galleries are seen branching in various directions. Some yards distant is a vestibule of octagonal form, which opens into a long gallery lined with bones from floor to roof. The arm, leg, and thigh bones are in front, closely and regularly piled, and their uniformity is relieved by three rows of skulls at equal distances. This gallery conducts to several rooms resembling chapels, lined with bones, variously arranged. One is called the "Tomb of the Revolution," another the "Tomb of Victims" — the latter containing the relics of those who perished in the early period of the Revolution and in "the massacre of September." It is estimated that the remains of fully 3,000,000 human beings lie in this receptacle. Owing to the unsafe condition of the roof, admission to the catacombs has been forbidden for years Of the other catacombs in existence, the most celebrated are those on the Via Appia, at a short distance from Rome, where, it is believed, the early Christians were in the habit of retiring in order to celebrate their new worship in times of persecution. These catacombs consist of long, narrow galleries, usually about eight feet high and five feet wide, which twist and turn in all directions, very much resembling mines, and at irregular intervals into wide and lofty vaulted chambers. The graves, where are buried many of the saints and martyrs of the primitive church, were constructed by hollowing out a portion of the rock at the side of the gallery large enough to contain the body. The catacombs at Naples, cut into the Capo di Monte, resemble those at Rome, and evidently were used for the same purpose, being in many parts literally covered with Christian symbols. In one of the largo vaulted chambers there are paintings which have retained a freshness which is wonderful. Similar catacombs have been found at Palermo and Syracuse, and in Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Persia, Egypt, and in Peru and other parts of South America.

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