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The Lanterns of the Dead

The city of Paris did not install street lanterns until the 1500s, but cemeteries across France had light hundreds of years earlier. The people of the 12th century built stone towers with platforms on top, sheltered from the wind but with openings for the light to shine out, to illuminate graveyards. Most were destroyed during the French Revolution, but around a hundred or so survive to this day. Why was a lantern in a cemetery deemed more important than lanterns in city streets?   

Superstition, perhaps?  Were these hollow towers, usually no more than two or three meters in height, built to guide the souls of the recently departed to their eternal rest?  Perhaps. It is thought that a lamp would be hoisted up at dusk to be a kind of lighthouse for souls.  It was also believed that the light emanating from these lanterns could restrict death to the confines of the graveyard, to stop its personified form seeking out new victims.

While we don't know the original purpose for the lights, these cemetery towers are sure interesting. Read more about the Lanternes des Morts and see lots of pictures at Kuriositas.

(Image credit: Jack ma)


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