The Père Lachaise cemetery is the biggest cemetery in Paris and one of the most visited in the world. And for good reason, it’s famous for being the last house of many celebrities: Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Frédéric Chopin and even Oscar Wilde, and many visitors come to pay homage to these people. But the Père-Lachaise is also a place filled with mystery and legends and a fascinating story. Here are 3 uncommon anecdotes about it!
At the beginning, Parisians didn’t want to be buried there!
It’s very hard to believe it today, when we see this necropolis with over a million people buried here. And yet, at the beginning, the Père-Lachaise cemetery was far from being this popular. The first year, in 1804, it only had 13 graves. 11 years old, it contained over 2000 graves. Parisians were unwilling to bury their close ones in this far-centered cemetery set in a “working-class” area.
This is an uncommon marketing strategy that will change the course of its story. Paris prefect decides to transfer the bodies of famous people such as Molière, Jean de La Fontaine and Heloïse and Abélard. 15 years later, the Père-Lachaise Cemetery moved from 2000 graves to 33,000 and has been extended until the size we know today.
Héloïse and Abélard: impossible love
Héloïse and Abélard are the oldest residents in the Père-Lachaise cemetery. The transfer of their bodies helped the place become more popular to the eyes of Parisians and their grave is listed as historical monument. But who are they? Why are they so fascinating? To know the story of these two lovers, let’s jump back in time.
We’re in the early 12th century. Pierre Abélard, an intellectual known as brilliant but not easy-going, teaches theology and philosophy at the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral. Canon Fulbert decides then to entrust him with the education of his niece, Heloïse. The student and the master fall in love: he’s 36, she’s 17.
Heloïse gets pregnant and the couple moves to Brittany where she’ll give birth to their son, Astrolabe and where they married in secret. But Heloïse’s uncle, canon Fulbert, reported their union and has Abélard emasculated. Heloïse goes into a convent while Abélard becomes a monk. They remained loyal to one another and kept their relationship alive through love letters, but they will never see each other again as long as they lived.
When she died, Helïse asked to be buried with Abélard who died twenty years before. Legend has it that when Heloïse’s body has been laid in her husband’s grave, Abélard’s arms opened to embrace her.
If you ever found yourself by the 44th division, perhaps have you noticed a mysterious dolmen surrounded by flowers? It’s one of the most uncommon graves in the Père-Lachaise cemetery: Allan Kardec’s. Alright, put like this, it rings no bell. And yet, it’s the father of spiritism and his Book of Spirits is the founding work.
If Jim Morrison’s grave is the most visited in the Père-Lachaise cemetery, Allan Kardec’s is the most flowered one. Legend has it that if you touch the neck of the bust or the pavement stone behind it while making a wish, it will come true. Flowers surrounding the dolmen are said to be thank-you token from those whose dream came true. The belief is so popular that on the back of the stone on which people make their wishes, a note is displayed to discourage superstitious from nourishing this urban legend.
Le cimetière du Père Lachaise
Boulevard de Ménilmontant
75020 Paris 20