Paris Cemetery Blues

Stained glass in Père Lachaise © 2012 Sue Mecklem

On this trip to Paris, it was actually sunny most of the time, which is quite a change from the usual overcast skies in November or early spring I’ve experienced. I’ve taken hundreds of cemetery photos before but the bright sun added a new and sometimes challenging aspect to photographing graves and crypts. The shadows were sometimes interesting but it was really too bright to take many great photographs unless there was a bit of shade to ameliorate the sun. There was one interesting exception – the stained glass windows at the back of many crypts were actually visible in many of the photos I took. And oddly, many of them were blue, which I hadn’t noticed till I looked back at the whole set.

Light through stained glass © 2012 Sue Mecklem

Crypt close up in Montparnasse cemetery © 2012 Sue Mecklem

Crypt in Montparnasse cemetery © 2012 Sue Mecklem

Stained glass window in Montparnasse cemetery © 2012 Sue Mecklem

Crypt in Père Lachaise cemetery © 2012 Sue Mecklem

You might also like my other posts with cemetery photos –

Père Lachaise Cemetery

Metro stop at the cemetery.©Todd Mecklem

I’ve previously posted about my visits to Certosa cemetery in Bologna and Montaparnasse cemetery in Paris but my very favorite cemetery is Père Lachaise, also in Paris.

On my first visit to Paris, my husband took me there. He’s a cemetery aficionado (or harolder*), and knew that I’d appreciate seeing this amazing place. We wandered around for hours looking at the sculpture reading the tombstones and visiting the columbarium.  I found it beautiful but also very sad. The section with memorials to people murdered in the Holocaust brought me to tears. Man’s inhumanity to man really got to me on that visit.

I can spend hours looking around at the graves, the family crypts and the columbarium, where the urns of ashes are kept. I don’t find it creepy at all; rather, I find it peaceful, melancholy, comforting, sad and beautiful all at once. The care families and friends take in selecting the words etched on the gravestone or the photograph used on a niche in the columbarium is very moving.

Flowers and photo of a young girl's niche in the columbarium.©Todd Mecklem

Communist Party Member's niche.©Todd Mecklem

Photo of a young women in the columbarium.©Todd Mecklem

Many famous people are buried or interred at Père Lachaise: Richard Wright, Marcel Proust, Molière, Isadora Duncan, and Chopin (except for his heart, which is in Warsaw). We checked out Jim Morrison’s grave, of course, and Oscar Wilde’s.

Oscar Wilde's tomb.©Todd Mecklem

Mourner at Jim Morrison's grave.©Todd Mecklem

Here’s a bit of history from the Paris Tourist Office: Père Lachaise is the biggest and best-known cemetery in Paris and is located in the 20th arrondissment. The Jesuits originally purchased the site in the 17th century with the intention of starting a convalescent home there. One of the most famous occupants was François d’Aix de La Chaise, known as “Le Père La Chaise”, the Sun King’s confessor.In the 19th century, Consul Napoleon Bonaparte ordered several new cemeteries to be built to make up for the lack of burial places within the city. In 1803, the Prefect of Paris asked the architect Brongniart to convert the Père Lachaise land into a cemetery for the eastern part of the city. The cemetery officially opened on 21 May 1804, when the first burial was held.

Stained glass in a family crypt.©Todd Mecklem

*There is a term for people who like to spend time at cemeteries: harolding. It’s a reference to the great 1971 movie Harold and Maude, which you really should see if you haven’t yet. The Cat Stevens soundtrack and the wonderful love story are great. And it involves cemeteries, of course.