I feel as if I only touched the surface of the beauty of this extraordinary cemetery in Paris. For a writer, Père Lachaise is a magical place of wonder and inspiration at every turn. I’m glad we took a tour, but even the guide told us there isn’t enough time to see everything. The most romantic story is the one of Abelard and Heloise.
Here are just a few highlights. (click any image to see a larger version)
Below, is Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849) Polish composer. Chopin requested that his body be opened after death (for fear of being buried alive) and his heart returned to Warsaw. It’s in a jar in the basement of a church. His tombstone, features the muse of music, Euterpe, weeping over a broken lyre:
Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737 – 1813) promoter of the potato as a food source for humans in France. Admirers leave potatoes on his tomb:
Abelard and Heloise Their love story is one of the best known romances of the middle ages. Abelard was one of the great French philosophers and logicians of his day, who was hired to teach Heloise, a rich young noble woman. Heloise and Abelard started an affair which led to an illegitimate child and a secret marriage. When Heloise’s uncle found out about the affair, he had Heloise placed in a nunnery and had Abelard castrated. The two of them sent love letters to each other over the course of the rest of their lives. The lovers’ bones were buried together under a grand tomb in 1817. People now leave love letters at their tomb. Read more about them here. (click any image to see a larger version)
Honoré de Balzac (1799 – 1850) French novelist and playwright. He kept long hours, writing late into the night, fueled by black coffee, and was said to be a hermit. He married a long time love that began with a correspondence; they were married when they met for the first time. Balzac died 5 months later:
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884 – 1920) Italian painter and sculptor whose nudes created a scandal at exhibitions. Buried with him is his wife, Jeanne Hébuterne, threw herself from a fifth story window the day after he died, killing herself and their unborn child:
Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) was a flamboyant Irish writer. The outsize genitals of his monument were smashed off in an act of vandalism. (It’s rumored the cemetery director used them as a paperweight.) In 2011, his descendants cleaned the tomb of the many lipstick marks left there by admirers, and a glass barrier was installed to prevent further marks or damage. That didn’t seem to stop admirers, however. One of them climbed an adjacent monument to get closer, and caused it to crumble.
American writer Gertrude Stein (1874 – 1946). Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It’s a Jewish tradition to leave stones and pebbles on her grave as a show of respect that you have visited and that both you and the deceased are immortal. Even in death, you are not forgotten:
Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault (1791- 1824) French painter and lithographer, known for The Raft of the Medusa. Perhaps the greatest achievement of his last years were his ten portraits of the insane. Only five have survived: A Man Suffering from Delusions of Military Command; A Kleptomaniac; A Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy; A Woman Addicted to Gambling and A Child Snatcher. A riding accident led to complications and caused a tumor to develop on his spine that proved fatal. He died at age 32:
Rivail (1804 – 1869). known as the systematizer of Spiritism. The inscription on his grave, translated, reads: “To be born, die, again be reborn, and so progress unceasingly, such is the law.” People come to his tomb to talk to the dead. He used the pen name Allan Kardec – “Allan” and “Kardec” were said to have been his names in previous incarnations.
In its early years Père Lachaise was a poor district, with many outlaws, winding streets and shady avenues. It is located on the hill of Champ ‘Evêque, where a wealthy merchant first built his home in 1430. In the 17th century the Jésuits, acquired the home and converted it into a hospice for members of their order. You can read about how this famous Romantic-inspired necropolis has become an open-air museum and pantheon garden here.
I was drawn there to see Jim Morrison’s grave, You can read what happened in my post Visiting Jim Morrison.