Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

As regular readers will know, cemeteries often feature in my posts – so when in Paris last week it was perhaps no surprise that I visited the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.

It is the largest of the Paris cemeteries and dates from the early 1800s, initially it attracted few burials but this changed when it developed a successful marketing strategy based on getting the rich and famous buried there – with Molière being re-interred there a few years after it’s opening. It’s famous ‘inhabitants’ include Oscar Wilde, pictured below, Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison and more recently, the cyclist Laurent Fignon.

Wilde’s Art Deco monument is very different to the rest of the cemetery which itself is very different from 19th century London cemeteries. Unlike London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’, Père-Lachaise was municipally run – something that didn’t happen in London until cemeteries like Ladywell and Brockley Cemeteries in the 1850s.

The style of the graves is very different – in Brockley and Ladywell, and Nunhead while there are a few more ostentatious memorials, the norm is for relatively simple gravestones. While at Père Lachaise there are some simple, unadorned headstones there are many more large family tombs, with a few very monuments and even small chapels. However, the most noticeable feature are tombs that are about the size and shape of the old police telephone boxes, with space for a single mourner inside and often a stained glass window at the rear.

Finally, I did find a link to Lewisham at Père-Lachaise, albeit a rather tenuous one, with the grave of an escapee from Britain – Thomas Kemp, who conceived and developed the Regency-style Kemp Town estate in Brighton. The Lewisham link is that his first wife was Frances Baring, the daughter of Sir Francis Baring who lived at the Manor House (now library), Lee. It appears that Kemp had little business capacity as a developer and lived beyond his means and ‘slid into insolvency’ and fled to Paris in 1837. He died in 1844 “in penury and bitterness” having been declared an outlaw in Britain.



8 thoughts on “Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

    1. runner500 Post author

      Glad you like it, oddly the link to the Barings was pure chance – I noticed the grave because the text was at eye level and in English, and as I know Brighton quite well I took a photo and did the rest at home. I must admit I was quite pleased to find a local connection.

  1. WalkToRio

    The cemeteries in Paris a quite an attraction. The first I visited Pere Lachaise , Wilde’s tomb didn’t have the glass barrier.

    1. runner500 Post author

      The glass barrier went up a few years ago because a ‘tradition’ was developing of kissing the monument wearing lipstick and it was getting discoloured, presumably as it is sculptured from a relatively soft limestone it was also getting eroded as well and if something wasn’t done it probably wouldn’t have lasted that long.

  2. Jim Brennan

    Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, WoW! I have that cemetery fetish too. Wish I knew about this cemetery when I was in Paris. You gave me a reason to go back. Terrific post, my friend.

    1. runner500 Post author

      Thanks Jim; it isn’t on the main tourist trail but most guide books will at least mention it. There are several other cemeteries there from the same period which I want to go back to. I love old cemeteries, they are peaceful, often overgrown and so full of unexpected plants and a link with the past.


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