When The exhibition of Our Body came to our city, I chose not to see it. However, I was in the minority as Body Worlds exhibitions have received more than 32 million visitors making them the world’s most popular touring attraction. I know that we rely upon cadavers for medical research and yet I must admit I empathize with some religious groups that have objected to this exhibit believing that it is inconsistent with the reverence towards the human body. And of course, I cannot imagine any aboriginal in North America consenting to this kind of display. Many of the aboriginals believe that a spiritual essence remains bound to the body after death so that its remains should never be disturbed. However, apparently all the human plastinates are from people who donated their bodies for this particular procedure. So why do I bring this up today when I am blogging about France?
Well, a popular tourist destination in Paris is the Catacombs. The cemetery of Innocent (close to Saint-Eustace, in the district of the “Halles”) had been used during nearly ten centuries and had become the origin of infection for all the inhabitants of the district. After multiple complaints, the Council of State decided to evacuate the cemetery! From 1786 to 1788, the bones of these bodies were carried at night on horse-drawn wagons to these tunnels that were once stone mines. As more cemeteries were closed, approximately 6 million Parisians ended up here as their final resting place. And since 1960, walking the 130 steps down into these catacombs have become a popular tourist destination.
As I considered the controversy about the Body Exhibition, I began wondering if any of those people who expressed outrage about the Body Exhibition have stood in line to view these skulls, pelvises , femurs and tibias ? At least the bodies at the Exhibition donated their bodies for this purpose. The people buried in the catacombs did not sign a consent form that millions of people could slowly walk past them oogling at their bones! And is there some inconsistency when in 2009, a French judge ruled concerning the Paris exhibition of “Our Body: The Universe Within”, that exhibiting dead bodies for profit was a “violation of the respect owed to them”? Interestingly, the French judge was outraged that profits were being made as people paid to see this exhibition. And yet, Paris makes a profit when they charge tourists to go into the catacombs and view the bones of these French remains! (href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catacombs_of_Paris”
The Body World’s exhibit states that its purpose and mission is the education of laymen about the human body, leading to better health awareness. What is the purpose of entering the Paris Catacombs? Apparently, once you have reached a narrow door into the tunnels of these catacombs you see a sign that says, “Ici Commence L’Empire de la Mort.” Here begins the Empire of Death! What should be our response to this visual confrontation of death? Perhaps fear if you have no spiritual roots! Perhaps a deeper appreciation for the brevity of our lives! And as we begin to comprehend that there are 6 million bodies down there, perhaps we even sense how insignificant we are unless we do have some spiritual understanding of who we are.
All that said, I am a little claustrophobic and I didn’t enjoy reading John Baxter’s description: The deeper we went the less frequent became the electric lights, the more saturated the air. Droplets condensed on the ceiling and splashed to the floor.” He also wrote, “The volume of rock weighed oppressively on my head.” Therefore, I know regardless of my family’s decision, I won’t be entering the catacombs. More importantly, having had cancer two years in a row, I feel like I have already wandered through my own tunnel of death and I know that I am not afraid of death since I have great faith in God. But for now, I want to embrace the Empire of Life and enjoy the living above those tunnels!