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Paris – Pere Lachaise Cemetery

We started getting into our rhythm today of waking up, heading down to the patisserie and grabbing some croissants and pain au chocolat then sitting and eating at a cafe with some coffee before the day’s activities. Which is exactly what we did today before braving the Metro for the first time and making our way to Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

The cemetery is actually quite peaceful and extraordinarily beautiful. Shade trees line the avenues within the cemetery and many of the tombs and gravestones feature amazing sculptures. DO NOT try and navigate the cemetery without a map or guide of some kind or you may never find your way out again.

Our first stop was the Crematorium which contains about 13,000 little niches that house the ashes of the deceased. Navigating the Crematorium has its own challenges since many of the aisle and niche markings have been worn away. We did manage to find the little niche that houses the greatest opera singer of the twentieth century, Maria Callas.

Next was the resting place of clearly one of the most beloved residents, Oscar Wilde. The modernist angel sculpture was designed by Jacob Epstein and on the other side of the tomb is a short bio of Wilde as well as his epitaph which reads, “And alien tears will fill for him Pity’s long broken urn, For his mourners will be outcast men And outcasts always mourn.” Flowers and candles adorn the tomb as well as hundreds of kisses.

I took great comfort in the fact that a small golden-eyed cat, who was completely unperturbed by the cemetery crowds, was watching over the grave of France’s Little Sparrow, Edith Piaf. You can see him in the foreground of the picture below.

You just can’t go through Pere Lachaise without visiting the resting place of another beloved and iconic figure, Jim Morrison. The painted bust of Morrison that used to rest on top of the headstone has since been stolen by admirers and a metal fence now surrounds the grave. This was certainly one of the more crowded locations and there were many who were just lounging around, smoking and basking in the presence of The Lizard King.

In my opinion, one of the most beautiful gravestones was that of Frederic Chopin. The grave is said to always be adorned with fresh flowers, even in the dead of winter. Chopin’s body is indeed here, but it is incomplete. Chopin had a terrible fear of being buried alive and his dying wish was that his heart be cut out and preserved in brandy. His request was honored and his heart is now sealed within a church pillar in Warsaw, Poland.

I absolutely adore the story of Pere Lachaise residents Heloise and Abelard who were at the center of a 12th century scandal. Abelard was a scholar who shocked Paris with his critiques of the Catholic church and Heloise was the daughter of the canon of Notre-Dame. Abelard was hired to be her tutor and, of course, the two fell in love. They fled Paris and secretly married, however once Heloise gave birth to their first child word got back to her father who. was. pissed. He sent a group of thugs to find Abelard and castrate him, which they did. Abelard retired to a monastery and Heloise went to a convent and the two never lived together again. However, the couple kept their love alive over the next twenty years by writing passionate letters back and forth to each other. They are buried together in Pere Lachaise and their tomb was built from stones of both Heloise’s convent and Abelard’s monastery. Alas, the tomb was undergoing some kind of renovation and was covered in scaffolding, but I took pictures anyway.

We visited other graves belonging to Gertrude Stein and Collette as well as the memorial tombs of those who resisted the Nazis and perished in the concentration camps. I would post pictures here, but my fingers are getting tired and it’s time to go grab a drink at the Brasserie down the street…so maybe later. Tomorrow morning we’re doing a Bike About Tour of Paris and we’re really excited to see more of the city! More adventures to come!

2 Comments

  1. Jackie/Mum says:

    Hi Sarah – I loved taking a tour of the Pere Lachaise cemetery with you. And I could just about taste the croissants and pain au chocolat…..
    so many fabulous things to do and see, and eat! Have a great time guys! Love & hugs,
    Mum
    xxxx

  2. Darrel says:

    I love that you got photos of Callas and Piaf's graves! Keep enjoying yourself! And I'm glad you don't have botulism.

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