As the Christian faith grew, more and more members of the congregation insisted on being buried in and around the church to reap the benefits of saint proximity. This burial practice spread throughout the empire, from Rome to Byzantium and to what is now present-day England and France. Entire towns grew up around these corpse churches.
Demand rose and the churches supplied it - for a fee, of course. The wealthiest church patrons wanted the best spots, nearest the saints. If there was a nook in the church big enough for corpse, you were sure to find a body in it. There were, without hyperbole, dead bodies everywhere.
The preferred locations were the half circle around the apse and the vestibule at the entrance. Beyond those key positions, it was a free-for-all: corpses were placed under the slabs on the floor, in the roof, under the eaves, even piled into the walls themselves. Going to church meant the corpses in the walls outnumbered the parishioners.
Without refrigeration, in the heat of the summer months, the noxious smell of human decomposition in these churches must have been unimaginable. Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini complained that “there are so many tombs in the church, and they are so often opened that this abominable smell is too often unmistakable. However much they fumigate the sacred edifices with incense, myrrh, and other aromatic odors, it is obviously very injurous to those present.
‘Smoke Gets in your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory’, by Caitlin Doughty
You touch me so gently it’s like a memory from someone’s grandmother’s photograph,
hush-pink roses and lace and small silver bells
You touch me like a treasure map
delicate and old and
laid on the bottom of a maple-wood chest
your initials carved
on the front.
You touch me and it’s all ivory,
fingertips on piano keys in an empty church
timid and brave and wonderful
all at the same time.
I told you once that all rivers lead to the ocean,
and that means all puddles and raindrops do, too;
if you follow them long enough.
You trace lines down my back like the water slipping off your windows,
like the whole world could stay this soft and gray and breathless
for more than a few moments.
You touch me and it’s warm safe saltwater light and whisper