The name « Catacombs » was given to this ossuary as a reference to the Rome’s Catacombs – an ancient cemetery located close to the Appian way. The Innocent Cemetery (close to Saint Eustache church) was used for ten centuries and became an hotbed of infection for all the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. After several requests, the State Council decided on the removal of all the remains from the Innocent Cemetery.Old quarries were used to store the bones.
The city of Paris had just got a General Quarry Inspection Department which was in charge of consolidating the public roads undermined by the quarries.
The quarries of the « Tombe d’Issoire » had some masonry work done such as the shoring of the galleries as well as the digging of an adjoining staircase to place the bones.
After the blessing and the consecration on 7 April 1786, the bones removal started and kept going on until 1788, always taking place after dark and following a ceremonial made up of a procession of priests wearing the surplice, and singing the Service for the Dead along the route taken by the carts carrying the bones covered with a black veil. The site would receive all the bones of all the Paris cemeteries until 1814.
From the moment of their conception, the Catacombs have aroused curiosity. In 1787, the Comte d’Artois, future Charles X, visited them with the ladies of the Court, and the following year, Madame de Polignac and Madame de Guiche visited them as well as François I, the Emperor of Austria who lived in Paris in 1814. In 1860, Napoleon III and his son also visited them.