Sunday’s Cemetery – Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

Published in June of 1895 in the Plain Dealer out of Cleveland, OH
A Description of the Great Cemeteries of Paris.
Customs Which Appear Strange
After Ten Years the Graves  Are Re-Dug Unless a “Concession a Perpetuiti” is Purchased – Many of the Graves are Several Stories Deep – Some of the Celebrities Who Are Buried There.
(Special Correspondence)
     Paris, May 18. – The cemetery of Pere Lachaise is the largest and by far the most interesting in Paris. It differs so entirely from our American burial places that I think a description of it cannot fail to be interesting to those who have not visited it. It is situated on a hill in the northeastern part of the city and is a pleasant drive from our hotel. The ground that it occupies used to be the country seat of Lachaise (after whom it is named), the Jesuit confessor of Louis XIV.
     It covers about 100 acres and is the burial place of all inhabitants of the northeastern part of the city, and the strangest part of all is that after ten years the graves are redug unless what they call a “concession a perpetuiti” is purchased. The spaces are very small, being about twenty-two square feet only and cost $150, and each square miter additional cost $400.  For a “concession temporaire” one has to pay only $89, or half that for a child’s grave.
     The graves are dug very strangely, being several stories deep – six to eight usually – one coffin being placed directly over the other to within a few feet of the surface. These are the common graves, but the more wealthy people have little chapels with places on each side below the floor like shelves or berths in the steerage on our steamers. They are fitted up often very elaborately with an altar and candles in tall silver candlesticks and photographs of the deceased and huge, ugly glass bead wreaths of flowers.
     It seems strange that in this land of flowers, where huge bouquets can be purchased for a few centimes, so few real flowers are seen in the cemeteries. They are usually made of beads or china and the wreaths often measure two or three feet in diameter.
     We started, as visitors usually do, first to see the tomb of Abelard and Heloise. It is very hard to find, being back among others, and we were about to give it up when we stumbled upon it. It is built from the fragments of their original tomb brought from the convent in Paracht, which Abelard had founded.
     Their sad story seems to touch the hearts of the French people, for the tomb is usually decorated with fresh flowers and wreaths. The graves of many celebrated people may be found here, among others Raspail, Gambetta, Massena, M. Balzac, Chopin, Lafontaine, Molière, Bellini, Rossini, Beausnarchais and Casimir Perier.
     Some few tombs are very beautiful especially those in memory of artists, with bronze and marble angels in attitudes of grief leaning over or about their graves.
     From the entrance the main avenue ascends to what is called the Grand Round, in the center of which is broken column created to the memory of the soldiers who fell in the late war between France and Prussia, heaped with huge wreaths. Here a very fine view of the city may be obtained.
     While we were wandering about among some of the old graves we met a funeral procession and followed it to the grave. The mourners were all on foot, following the coffin, which was carried in a very strange hearse drawn by four black horses.
     They were met at the tomb (it was one of the better class) by a priest and little altar boy carrying a crucifix. The prayers were read and then each of the family and friends made the sign of the cross over the casket with holy water. Then the family stood in a line, as we do at receptions, and each of the friends said something in sympathy to the mourners and quietly withdrew. After that the coffin was lowered, but not without great difficulty, as it proved too large for the sepulcher. Finally it was settled into the final resting place and one of the mourners, a middle aged man, stepped forward and dropped a few flowers into the open grave. After this the sad little procession moved sorrowfully away.
     Just back of the cemetery is a large crematory, where bodies are burned daily and the ashes placed in nitches in a high wall. On some of the tablets were very tender inscriptions, but a few were left blank. I suppose what could have been said was better left unsaid. One was marked only with “Regrets.”
     Besides Pere Lachaise there are twenty-two other burial grounds in Paris, the next two in importance being Mont Marte and Mont Parnasse.
     Our All Souls’ day or Jour des Morts, as they call it, these cemeteries are visited by great crowds of people who bring flowers and mourn and pray for the rest of their souls.   JANE GRAVES

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Sunday’s Cemetery – Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

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