Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us, Paul Koudounaris

As I mentioned in my post here about the book Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, I find the topic and rituals around death in other cultures truly fascinating. I know it sounds so bizarre and every time I write about it or mention it to people, I feel as though I have to defend myself but I can’t help but find it such an interesting topic. And evidently Paul Koudounaris does also given that most of his books are on the topic also.

I received Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us as a birthday gift and already knew I would love it. I had actually had a flick through it in my local bookstore but kept putting it back due to other buys at the time. I really enjoyed the Heavenly Bodies book by Koudounaris which was an in-depth look at the catacomb saints that were identified as martyrs and used at the time of the Protestants uprisings to try and strengthen the Catholic Church in Europe. This book was different in that while it still gave a lot of detail, it included cultures from all across the globe. Ranging from the Parisian Catacombs to the decorated masterpieces in Czech Republic, cliff and cave burials throughout Asia to enshrined skulls in Bolivia; even memorials to genocide victims in Cambodia and Rwanda. Koudounaris hasn’t simply stuck to European countries but travelled and gathered information from all cultures -which is really refreshing.

There were many sections that I really enjoyed in this book. I loved the information and photography of the mummies from the Inca/Peru, Chile and Bolivia; who were still seated as though they were meditating, facing the East to the rising sun. I also found some of the more recent elements that he wrote about quite interesting. In particular, the section about Asian monks and their mummification rituals. Some monks would go on diets of poisonous teas whilst others would be gilded. This is interesting but it strikes a different cord when you read that there people as recent as the 1990’s being gilded in Tibet and Taiwan -of course, it was their own choice but when your someone like myself whose born in the 90’s, it hits a bit different.

I will say that while I do enjoy Koudounaris’s works and I do have a strong stomach to this stuff, there was a section that was a bit too much even for me. A section of the book goes into the mummification and displaying of corpses through Catholic Europe, in particular Italy. It details how the bodies of monks and brotherhoods would dry out and dehydrate bodies for years before displaying them as signs of ‘morbid piety‘. I have to say, the details were a bit much to read but the visuals were something else entirely. Some of them looked as though they were in pain rather than resting peacefully.

There is far more that I could write about this book but it just has so much detail to it that I will never be able to do justice to. I definitely would recommend it to anyone interested in this macabre stuff. I have no doubt I will be exploring more of Koudounaris’s books soon -he seems very much a like-minded person to me.

Cheerio for now!

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