Paying Tribute to Pariseans Past and Present: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

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Gated Front Entrance to the Cemetière du Pere Lachaise

This Monday, we started off the week with an eventful visit to the Cemetière du Pere Lachaise, a famous cemetery located on the eastern outskirts of the city in the 20th arrondisement.  The cemetery is named after Pere Francois de la Chaise, confessor to Louis XIV.   A point of pride for many Paresians, the cemetery embraces the French ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity, and pays tribute to Napoleon Boneparte’s declaration that all people should have the right to a burial regardless of race and religion.

Opened in 1804, this cemetery was actually constructed as a necessary expansion to avoid the potential health hazards of overcrowded cemeteries in the center of the city.  Initially, Parisians were disinterested in being buried there due to its location on the outskirts of the city and lack of history.  Administrators needed to quickly find creative ways to popularize the cemetery, and successfully did this by transferring the remains of famous poets, playwrights, and philosophers such Moliere, Pierre Abélard, and Heloise.

In tune with the French ideals of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité established during the first republic, remains of people from a wide range of social classes and backgrounds can be found on the grounds of the cemetery.  Plots were and are available from small individual spaces to extremely ornate family tombs.  Since the cemetery has been popularized, wealthy families (particularly from the political and business realms of society) have purchased ornate tombs to hold the remains of many generations.  Today, basic plots at the Cemetière du Pere Lachaise cost about 12,000 euros, although elaborate tombs are long sought after and command much higher prices—especially now that space is more limited.

The Cemetière du Pere Lachaise quickly became a prestigious place to be buried amongst Parisians, and is now the final resting place of many famous French people—including Jean Casimir Perier, a French president during the 3rd republic, mathematician Joseph Fourier, and Oscar Wilde, author of The Importance of Being Earnest, just to name a few.

Justin Colt

Grave site of Jean Casimir Perier, Fifth President of the Third French Republic

Gravestone of Oscar Wilde, author of The Importance of Being Earnest-- who was evidently quite popular with the ladies