Ancient Cities, Sacred Sites: Ossuaries And Catacombs

Setting is incredibly important for me in my writing.

Joanna Penn in the Paris catacombs

I often start with setting and then write a scene to fit the place, rather than the other way around. I’m primarily a visual person and the aspects of place in terms of resonance and spirituality are also important. For my novel Prophecy I wanted to have the theme of bones throughout the book so these places were great inspiration. For a villain who wants to kill a quarter of the world, the dead are important witnesses.

Paris Catacombs

In June 2011, my husband and I took a trip to Paris and visited the Catacombs which contain the remains of around 6 million people. By the 17th century, graveyards throughout Paris had become full up and the dead were poking from the ground. Decomposing remains were causing sanitary issues in the city at multiple locations. So it was decided to move all the bones to one location. After years of horse-drawn carriages moving the dead at night, the catacombs were full of bones. In 1810, it was decided to make the site more of a mausoleum and the bones were arranged into the designs that can be seen today.

You can see my photos of the catacombs on Flickr here and you can watch the catacombs in more detail in the video below:

Sedlec Ossuary, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

I just had to use Sedlec as a key setting for my bad guy and his evil deeds. It’s a church but such a macabre place. I haven’t been in person but the images available are fuel for the imagination.

This video includes some great images including the chandelier that features in the climax of Prophecy.

Capuchin Crypt of Palermo, Sicily

As I investigated the ossuaries of the world, I found Palermo. Again, I haven’t been there myself but the amazing pictures and video online made it easy to write about. It’s definitely on my list to visit! You will see how I have used many of the images in this video in my chapter set in the crypt. Rosalia Lombardo is the little girl with the ribbon – yes, she is real. I personally found the more fleshy bodies of the mummies far more disturbing than the bones at Sedlec which I have reflected in the way Morgan feels when she is down there looking for the Devil’s Bible.

You can buy Prophecy on Kindle now at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

 

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