Unreal Places in Victorian London: The Serapeum

The Order met in the Serapeum from the late 1600s until October 1870

The Serapeum

After the Great Fire of 1666 leveled much of the City (London’s financial and political district) Charles II commissioned Christopher Wren to design a new version of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  At the same time, the Order, which had lost its medieval Guild House, appointed architects to erect a new series of buildings: a grand ballroom, an art gallery, and a Tribunal Hall. Together, this sprawling complex came to be known as the Serapeum.  

In the ancient world, an attempt to unify Greeks and Egyptians led to several temples dedicated to Serapis, a god who personified Hellenistic ideals but was attired like an Egyptian.  These grand temples appealed to the self-importance of the Order’s most influential psis.  Many of them, including the Order’s last Chair, Nathan Chamberlain, claimed to trace their ancestry all the way back to the ancient world.  It was a popular conceit among Victorian psis: the gods of the ancient world were actually telepaths, telekinetics, or pyrokinetics.  The Oracle at Delphi, for example, was “manifestly a psi,” Chamberlain was quoted as saying.  Despite an utter lack of evidence for these claims, the Order’s seat of power was named to emphasize their supposed connection to both the philosophers of Athens and the god-kings of Memphis.

Map of catacombs beneath the Serapeum

The Catacombs and the Ossuary

Beneath the medieval Guild House rested the Order’s catacombs and Ossuary, filled with the skulls and long bones of thousands of psis.  Deep within resided the remains of the Elizabethan telepath Brigid (often conflated with St. Brigid) who hunted down the deathless Malegant and slew him.  But the Order’s Ossuary was no mere bone pile.  Its curators often fashioned the remains of its occupants into inventive and ghoulishly beautiful art.

Ossuary chandelier made of bones and skulls

The Order’s Modern Face: Chamberlain Foundation Europe, or CFE

After the Order’s collapse, the Serapeum fell into disuse.  Eventually the Tribunal Hall was transformed into a hospital while the connected structures were demolished, their treasures sold or destroyed.  However, the Ossuary remained beneath, forgotten and untouched.  In the 1990s, as the western world’s population of adult psis topped three thousand for the first time in more than a hundred years, a new order was formed.  Named for the last Chair, the Chamberlain Foundation Europe purchased the hospital, now hopelessly out of date, and built a modern tower atop the catacombs and Ossuary.

The CFE tower, present day*

* Actually it’s Lloyd’s of London, but I did title this post “unreal places”

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