November 1st is Toussaint, All Saints’ Day. In the catholic tradition it should not be a day dedicated to the dead for the All Souls’ Day (Commémoration des fidèles défunts) is celebrated the day after, on Nov. 2nd. Nonetheless in France, as in many other European countries, people honour their dead relatives today for it is a public holiday. Of course, since we are in 2020 Toussaint is on a Sunday … but that it is our problem.
The dead commemoration includes visit cemeteries, bringing flowers to the family tombs (heather, Chrysanthemum, immortal wreaths…), attending a special Mass and sometimes lighting candles.
Historically speaking this tradition has extremely ancient roots, going back to Celtic time. If you are looking for more information about the history and the local tradition, I will share with you a very interesting link at the end of this post.
Before, I will share with you 3 cemeteries you should visit in Paris during your next visit and few tips to experience them.
1 – Père-Lachaise cemetery. I can hear your critics. I know that everyone knows it and therefore it seems a predictable choice and a not-so-interesting information but allow me to tell you something. There is a reason why you should visit the Père-Lachaise cemetery and it is simple. If you love ancient graveyards like I do, this is one of the most beautiful you will ever see. Just avoid to use a map to go “tomb-seeing”. Unless you are a big fan of one of Père-Lachaise‘s very famous residents you will get quite tired, very bored and probably frustrated. Just have a walk in the ancient section of the cemetery and appreciate its atmosphere and architecture or hired a guide that can show you around… you will discover much more than the history of the cemetery. You will see the Communards’ Wall (Mur des Fédérés) where, on May 28, 1871, 147 combatants of the Paris Commune were shot and thrown in an open trench at the foot of the wall and discover the memorials’ area.
2 – Picpus cemetery. If the Père-Lachaise cemetery is the obvious choice, Pic-Pus cemetery is the place no-one knows and, once more, there are reasons why. It is not in the city center, it is small and aesthetically speaking it is not the most beautiful one. More over, being private, opening hours are extremely limited. So why you should go there? If you are interested in the history of the French and American Revolutions you cannot miss it. Between June 14th and July 27th 1794, 1306 people who were guillotined at Place du Trone-Renverse (nowadays Place de la Nation) were piled up in two mass graves now included in a special enclosure. This is how PicPus Cemetery became a private cemetery housing a large number of French aristocracy tombs: the cemetery is now reserved only to the family members of the victims who repurchased the property in June 1802. Today you can still see a small portion of the original fence that once enclosed the graves, as the original entrance for the carts bringing the bodies. You can still see the chapel where some of the names, ages and occupations of beheaded people were engraved. Among the tombs, a special place is dedicated to La Fayette tomb, where an American flag flutters in the wind.
3 – Montparnasse Cemetery. Montparnasse cemetery is mainly famous for the people resting there as it is the resting place of the French artistic and cultural elite. Among the many names you can find there, there are the poet Charles Baudelaire and the well-known French writer and feminist Simone de Beauvoir. The cemetery is also dear to Jews, as Alfred Dreyfus is buried in its southern area. The place owes also its fame to Francois Bertrand, better known as the Vampire of Montparnasse. His chilling history deserve a dedicated post.
There are also other famous cemeteries in Paris, like Passy, Montmartre Cemetery – I prefer the old Montmartre Cemetery – and the Cimitiere du Calvaire, which is the oldest and smallest cemetery you can visit in Paris, open only once a year.
In any case, whatever is the cemetery you are visiting, if you are alone, with your family, friends or a guide, please remember that cemeteries are places of quiet and rest, not selfie zones. Please follow the rules, do not cross fences and do not offend mourning people with your behaviour… whatever is your religion or personal belief, be respectful.
If you are looking for a private tour (virtual or real) please feel free to contact me.
If you want more info about our tradition check this link out: https://frenchmoments.eu/all-saints-day-in-france-la-toussaint/?fbclid=IwAR3TbK3IBy_AW4ZMXqprrpIjegvAMzHZNfJEuvO6TzqFV6d0428vK4CSARc