City of Lights: Père Lachaise

Le passé est un pays étranger : on y fait les choses autrement qu’ici.

“Père Lachaise! What kind of an old man do you think gave his name to this cemetery? Most persons, I imagine, see him as white-haired and venerable: not twinkling, like Papa Gontier, but serene and noble and sad. As a matter of fact he was a père only by profession and courtesy. Père Lachaise was Louis XIV’s fashionable confessor (Landor has a diverting imaginary conversation between these two), and the cemetery took its name from his house, which chanced to occupy the site of the present chapel. The ground was enclosed as a burial ground as recently as 1804, which means of course that the famous tomb of Abelard and Héloïse, to which all travellers find their way, is a modern reconstruction. The remains of La Fontaine and Molière and other illustrious men who died before 1804 were transferred here, just as Zola’s were recently transferred from the cemetery of Montmartre to the Pantheon, but with less excitement.

Père Lachaise cannot be taken lightly. The French live very thoroughly, but when they die they die thoroughly too, and their cemeteries confess the scythe. There may be, to our thinking, too much architecture; but it is serious. There is no mountebanking (as at Genoa), nor is there any whining, as in some of our own churchyards. Death to a Frenchman is a fact and a mystery, to be faced when the time comes, if not before, and to be honoured. On certain festivals of the year there are a thousand mourners to every acre of Père Lachaise.”

From A Wanderer in Paris by E. V. Lucas (London: Methuen, 1909). Edward Verrall Lucas (1868-1938) was an English humourist, essayist, playwright, biographer, publisher, poet, novelist, short story writer, editor, and author of over 100 books. He joined the staff of the magazine Punch in 1904 and remained there for the rest of his life.

Pere-Lachaise

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Published by

Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

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