IT IS still possible to be buried alongside such luminaries as Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison of The Doors in the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris 20th – but you have to have either had a home in Paris or have died there.
However, it is not possible to reserve a place in France’s most famous graveyard said an official at the cemetery, but if you meet the criteria there are still plots and your family can make arrangements after you die.
Sited on a hill in the east of the city, the cemetery is named after François d’Aix, seigneur de La Chaise, the Jesuit confessor of King Louis XIV and who used to live on the site.
These days the list of famous “residents” there is an exhaustive roll-call of the great and the good, including Edith Piaf, Maria Callas, Honoré de Balzac, Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt and Marcel Proust.
However it is not only French celebrities who found their last resting place there – there are a million people buried in the graveyard and the vast majority are common Paris residents – however, among the most-visited graves are those of “Anglo-Saxons” with French links.
The grave of playwright Oscar Wilde is noted for being covered with graffiti messages and lipstick kisses by over-enthusiastic admirers. Wilde, who died in 1900, emigrated to France after his jail sentence for “gross indecency”. Calling himself Sebastian Melmoth (a mixture of Christian martyr Saint Sebastian and the devilish hero of a Gothic novel) he lived in a hotel in Saint-Germain-des-Près, now just called L’Hôtel.
The inscription on his monument, by sculptor Jacob Epstein, is a quote from Wilde’s poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol:
And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn
For his mourners will be outcast men
And outcasts always mourn.
An angry visitor smashed the penis off its naked male figure soon after it was installed and in 2000 an artist held a ceremony where a silver prosthetic was attached.
The grave of US rock singer and poet Morrison was also a target for graffiti and there is now a security patrol at the cemetery to try to cut down on abuses. Morrison died in Paris, in 1971, aged 27. He was found in his bath in his rented flat. Mystery still surrounds his death, with theories including a heroin overdose or a respiratory illness (there was no autopsy because the
authorities said there was no evidence of “foul play”).
This has led some fans to claim his death was faked and he is living in obscurity somewhere. His modest grave bears a Greek inscription which means “True to his Own Spirit”.
Other graves include Sir Richard Wallace, an English art collector, whose most noted contribution to Paris was the donation of 50 cast-iron sculpted drinking fountains for the streets, which became a symbol of the city. Some can still be seen.
He also left art to found the Wallace Collection in London, which now includes Titians, Rembrandts and Franz Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier.
Another Briton, Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith, is remembered for having won a victory against Napoleon at Acre, Israel, causing the emperor to remark: “That man made me miss my
Père-Lachaise cemetery was the scene of fierce fighting during the Communard uprising in 1871. In May after hand to hand fighting between the tombs, 147 of the last defenders of the Commune of Paris, an anarchist revolution, were shot along the Wall des Fédérés. The bodies
of 690 fallen comrades were also buried near the wall.
Père-Lachaise also contains memorials to the French people deported to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
When it opened in 1804 Parisians were reluctant to sign up and it was not until the the remains of the legendary medieval lovers Abélard and Héloïse, playwright Molière and poet La Fontaine were transferred there that people started to sign up.
In 1815 fewer than 2,000 tombs in the then 17-hectare enclosure had been taken up but after the bodies were transferred demand rose sharply. It has now been extended six times to its present 44 hectare size.
Père-Lachaise holds one million bodies in its 70,000 tombs and is the most visited graveyard in the world with two million visitors each year. It has a website with a clickable map of the locations of the most famous graves. English-language guided tours are done at weekends.
Many of the structures and tombs have been classified as official historical monuments, including
Bartholomé’s sculpture Monument to the Dead, the graves of Abélard and Héloïse, Molière and La Fontaine and Étienne-Hippolyte Godde’s mortuary and chapel and his entrance gate on Boulevard de Ménilmontant
Also buried in France...
Josephine Baker – The dancer and singer is buried in Monaco. She was the first American woman to get military honours at her Paris funeral, with a 21-gun salute for her services to the Resistance.
Writer Samuel Beckett – The Irish dramatist is buried with his wife Suzanne at Paris Montparnasse cemetery. Beckett asked that his gravestone be “any colour, so long as it’s grey”.
Actor Yul Brynner – The star of The King and I is buried in Luzé, Indre-et-Loire.
D.H. Lawrence – Novelist was buried at Vence, Alpes-Maritimes (his body was later exhumed and then cremated)
Margaret Kelly Leibovici – Miss Bluebell, the founder of the world-famous dance troupe at the Lido, rests in Montmartre cemetery, Paris.
Man Ray – American surrealist artist who spent most of his life in Paris is buried at Montparnasse.
Marie of Guise – Wife of Scotland’s King James V and mother of Mary Queen of Scots is buried in Reims Cathedral. Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI of England, rests in Angers Cathedral.
War poet John McCrae – Canadian surgeon best known for In Flanders Fields is buried in Wimereux military cemetery, near Boulogne.
Wilfred Owen – the poet and soldier famed for Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth is buried in Ors (Nord). He died in the Battle of the Sambre a week before the First World War ended.
Sir Bertram Ramsay – the British admiral responsible for the Dunkirk evacuation and one of the key people behind the D-Day landings is buried in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Yvelines).
King Richard the Lionheart – is in several bits round France: his heart is in Rouen Cathedral, Normandy; his entrails at Château de Chalus Chabrol, Limousin, his brain at Charroux Abbey, Vienne; the rest of his remains are in Fontevraud Abbey, Anjou.
Actress Jean Seberg – Star of Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle, Paint Your Wagon and Airplane, the American actress is buried in the Montparnasse cemetery.
William Webb-Ellis – the man who is said to have invented rugby, is buried in Menton, Alpes-Maritimes
W.B. Yeates – the Irish poet was buried in Roquebrune on the Côte d’Azur, then his body was repatriated to Ireland after WW2.
Leonardo da Vinci – spent his last years at Amboise, Indre-et-Loire, and is buried there.
Rin Tin Tin – Hollywood canine star is buried in the Cimetière des Chiens in Asnières-sur-Seine. Saved from a bombed kennel by an American serviceman in France in the First World War, he was brought back after he died in 1932.