Recently returning from Paris, France, a family friend reported that he had a chance to tour the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery. As we have noted in previous blogs, this cemetery is considered to be interesting from a number of viewpoints: its incredible history, the garden-like nature of the surroundings, and the unending list of notables who are at final rest.
Martin Oaks Cemetery is certainly old by contemporary U.S. standards – but Pere Lachaise is literally of a different epoch. Established in 1804 by Napoleon, the cemetery takes its name from Francois De La Chaise (pictured above), a catholic priest who served as confessor to King Louis XIV (pictured below). In case you are not up on your French history, Louis was a monarch of the House of Bourbon; his 72 year-plus reign is the longest in European history. He, in fact, out lived most of his immediate family. As a longstanding King, he was faced with numerous internal disputes, which he resolved ably. Although he had a reputation for vanity and could be temperamental, history has been kind to Louis XIV.
Father De La Chaise was a prominent fixture in the complicated relationship system which surrounded the King. He lived in a Jesuit house which eventually was named after him. Years later, Napoleon established a cemetery on the grounds of where the house stood – quite naturally, the cemetery became known as Pere De Lachaise.
Located on Boulevard De Menilmontant, its origins, although associated with some famous French political figures, show slow development. During the first year it was opened, there were only 13 graves. Eventually, few famous personages were buried there and people began clamoring to buy graves. Today the exact number of occupants is at best, a guess. At least one million people have graves — this does not include the ossuary and columbarium, so the total could possibly be two or three times that number.
The first known cremation was done in 1889 – a neo-byzantine style building was eventually erected for the crematory. For many years this was the only building of its kind in France. It now consists of a chapel and four wings which form the columbarium for storage of urns containing cremains. The most recent renovations took place (2007-2008) in order to accommodate more equipment.
While the cemetery itself claims there are more than 300 famous personages interred there, the number of names of very notable figures probably exceeds that. Oscar Wilde’s tomb attracts more than 1,000 visitors a day. The controversial writer is just slightly more popular of a tourist destination than several others including Frederic Chopin, The Doors’ Jim Morrison, and French singer Edith Piaf. Chopin, of course, was the Polish composer; Morrison was a free spirit who passed before his 28th birthday; Piaf, sometimes referred to as “the little sparrow,” was a much beloved French singer who also had a tumultuous personal life.
Others with international reputations include the opera singer, Maria Callas, whose fans consider her to be the finest soprano of all time; legendary actress, Sarah Bernhardt; and the mime artist, Marcel Marceau.
Two memorials stand out: there is a memorial to the victims of Dachau (concentration camp in Germany during WWII), and a memorial to the victims of Auschwitz (the most infamous of all German concentration camps – it was located in Poland).
Among the many painters and sculptors is Amedeo Modigliani, whose style, while influenced by a number of schools of art, is completely unique. Also worth mentioning is a famous American author whose views shaped the work of nearly a generation of American writers (including Ernest Hemingway) — Gertrude Stein.
As we have noted before, being buried in Pere Lachaise is not the easiest of affairs — there is always a waiting list, and the cemetery squeezes more clients into smaller and smaller spaces. Shelves are added in the mausoleums, and multiple family members have been known to be interred in the same grave. Recently, Pere Lachaise has begun to issue 30 year leases on a grave site – if the family does not renew the lease, the remains can be exhumed, making way for a new grave. The exhumed remains are then deposited in the ossuary below ground.
Some people may be put off by cemeteries, not considering them to be beautifully landscaped or well-tended. Whatever your views on this subject are, Pere Lachaise is one of a kind.
Call Martin Oaks for an immediate response (469)605-7215. Inexpensive cremation services are available through the funeral directors who work with Martin Oaks in and around the Dallas, Texas area. All services must be arranged through the licensed funeral directors who work with Martin Oaks. Funeral directors who work with Martin Oaks experience providing affordable, low cost Hindu Cremations and Witnessing.
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