The Black Death arrived in Rouen by boat and, in no time at all, wiped out three quarters of the population. I arrived by rail and, to the best of my knowledge, went comparatively unnoticed.
Greetings from Saint-Maclou Aître, location of the remains of Rouen’s plague ossuary and, indeed, many of its residents. Discover the funereal decorations builders carved into the beams of the medieval courtyard. Join the dance of death before its characters are worn to dust. And learn the fate of all those homes left empty when the Black Death disembarked.
Under the castle ruins, among the standing stones and in the barrows under England, the old world is sleeping. One magical creature, however, had the misfortune to draw the night shift.
Greetings from Parkland Walk, once a battlefront of industrialisation, now reclaimed by the wilderness and its spriggan guardian. Join me as I walk the three-mile path through London. Pay tribute to the powers at work here – whether of our world or another. And follow the Gothic Dispatch if only to keep me from being led maliciously astray.
Few things suggest hereditary power in England like gothic castles – although receding hairlines come close. Fortunately, Horace Walpole chose to poke fun at the former.
Greetings from Strawberry Hill House, Horace Walpole’s “little gothic castle” and inspiration for the first gothic novel. Join me to discover the ironic origins of gothic literature’s essential inversion – that of the dominator and the subordinate. And peek behind the walls of England’s greatest castles to find power as flimsy as cardboard.
Edgar Allan Poe never set foot in Paris. He wrote about it anyway. But can “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” serve as a guide to the darker side of the city of light?
In this dispatch, join me between the pages and passageways of Poe’s gothic detective story. Hone your ratiocination in the footsteps of C. Auguste Dupin. Walk among volumes rare and remarkable in the city’s grand libraries. Search for the grotesque mansion in which the mystery unravels. And perhaps find an answer to one of the story’s biggest questions: Is the Rue Morgue a real place?
Remember that war, plague or famine could carry us to the grave at any instant. So, let’s just try and enjoy ourselves before that.
In this dispatch, visit the former site of Holy Innocents’ Cemetery and the first visual example of a danse macabre. Search high and low for what remains of the cemetery – not least its reputation for depravity. And join me in learning that, whether you want to visit a country’s monuments or assassinate one of its monarchs, it’s best to seize every moment.
Welcome to Père Lachaise – where there’s plenty of room for the living but the dead face stiffer entry requirements.
In this dispatch, join me as I search among more than one million residents for the best company in the afterlife. Meet the great French writers Molière and Jean de La Fontaine. Pay tribute to lovers Abelard and Heloise. And find out how they came to be buried here and how I might hope to, too. Because, while I have plenty left to do, see and lose in this life, one can never be too prepared.
Greetings from Reims Cathedral. While supposedly not an allusion to the disorienting and processional nature of ruling, this site of French coronations was once home to a labyrinth.
In this dispatch, follow me through the winding streets of the city and try not to get lured off-course by the art deco architecture. Lose all sense of scale as you gaze at the 15-foot statues of previous monarchs that line the cathedral’s towers. And discover why a labyrinth that held four masons and an archbishop has become a symbol of France’s historical monuments.
The French town of Saint Denis is named for the bishop who, in 250AD, supposedly walked there from Montmartre – a distance of about seven kilometres – holding his own decapitated head.
Now, when you’re going through something even ever-so-slightly unpleasant, it almost never helps to consider the ways things could be worse. So, say that a thunderstorm has forced you to take refuge in an abandoned violin store. You would no doubt be cold and miserable. And while things could be worse – the violin store could be in business and flooding the world with the sharp and screeching sound of strings – the thought won’t dry your soaked clothes.
So, despite the head still attached to my body, it was with reservations that I took the metro to Saint Denis to see the oldest gothic building for myself.
If you’ve ever possessed a fortune large enough to spend a lot of it, you’ll know the sinking feeling that comes when you realise you probably won’t get your money’s worth.
For example, I once spent a month’s salary on a figurehead salvaged from the prow of a very famous pirate ship. I made this purchase because I believed it would bring my companion and I good luck on a perilous voyage of our own. Needless to say, it was one of the first things cut loose when our boat started taking on water – a decision which did nothing to ease my own sinking feeling.
A sinking feeling no doubt familiar to the French royal family. Because little more than 100 years after its completion in 1248, Sainte-Chapelle and the surrounding palace were abandoned. I went to see this gothic gem for myself.