Pere-Lachaise from San Juan
48° 51′ 35.95 N 2° 23′ 20.51 E (Main Entrance)
Hours: November 6-March 15: Monday-Friday: 8 am-5:30 pm, Saturday 8:30 am-5:30 pm, Sunday and holidays 9 am-5:30 pm, March 16-November 5: Closing hours extended to 6 pm Metro: Pere Lachaise or Philippe Auguste for main entrance or Gambetta for upper entrance
Established in 1804, Pere-Lachaise has the distinction of being the first garden cemetery in the world. Almost all cemeteries for the next century were, in some fashion, modeled on Pere-Lachaise. Prior to the development of Pere-Lachaise, most burials in Paris were in often ill-kept city cemeteries or in churchyards, known as God’s Acres. Moneyed types and church officials were occasionally buried in special monuments or within the walls of a church, but everybody else was pretty much destined to spend eternity crowded together in tiny plots of real estate, often piled one on top of another.
Due to the disastrous overcrowding of Paris’ existing cemeteries and the subsequent emptying of those cemeteries and transfer of the bones to the Catacombs, a solution of what to do with the dead needed to be found. Enter a small man whose imprint is on much of French history: Napoleon Bonaparte. The French Revolution had led, at least in theory, to the end of the separation of classes and that secularization, theoretically, would apply to their permanent homes in the cemetery.
Napoleon assigned Nicolas Frochot with the task of acquiring land for the future burial grounds. His first acquisition was a piece of land owned by Louis Baron-Desfontaines that was also the site of a Jesuit house occupied by Louis XlV’s confessor Pere Francois de la Chaise (1624-1709). Frochot then hired architect Alexandre-Theodore Brongniart to design the layout of the cemetery. Brongniart modeled the new burial ground on English estates and created a new environment of eternity that looked more like a park than a cemetery. Thus, the garden cemetery was born.
Despite the attractive layout of Pere-Lachaise, Parisians didn’t flock to the new cemetery to buy plots. Many perceived it as being too far out of town. Catholics declined to be buried in a place that hadn’t been blessed and others balked at the price. In the first year of operation, only thirteen people were buried at Pere-Lachaise. The first burial was five-year-old Adelaide Paillard de Villeneuve, who was buried in what is now Division 42. Burials inched incrementally forward for the next decade and a half, then, in a move that would gladden the heart of a modern-day marketer, Frochot brokered the transfer of the remains of Heloise and Abelard, Moliere and La Fontaine to Pere-Lachaise in 1817. What self-respecting Parisian wouldn’t want to be buried with these icons of the past?
It wasn’t long before Pere-Lachaise became Parisians’ choice for a permanent residence. By the 1820s Pere-Lachaise began to be peppered with monuments. Most new residents were content to just stay temporarily in the ground in Pere-Lachaise before they were dug up and their bones placed in an ossuary. Whether in the ground or in an ossuary, they’d be rubbing elbows with some high society folks who they were unlikely to mingle with in life. By 1823 about 30,000 Parisians were calling Pere-Lachaise home. Of those, 82 percent had chosen to be buried in common graves, 13 percent had chosen temporary graves and 5 percent had chosen perpetual graves. Almost half had chosen a marker of some sort, even if it was a temporary one.
Today Pere-Lachaise is still an active cemetery. It isn’t particularly easy nor cheap to find an available space, and essentially only Parisians are allowed to be buried there. There is little space for ground burial but the rise of cremation and the relatively small space needed to house cremains in the columbarium means that Pere-Lachaise will continue to be an active cemetery for decades to come.
Victor Hugo summed up the appeal of Pere-Lachaise best in Les Miserables, To be buried in Pere-Lachaise is like having mahogany furnitureinherent elegance.
Although there are multiple entrances to Pere-Lachaise, some of which seem to open and close at the whim of cemetery officials, for the best experience walk in the main entrance on boulevard de Menilmontant and walk along Avenue Principale toward the magnificent aux Morts monument. Aux Morts is only one of over 69,000 mausoleums, statues, tombs and gravestones. All of them contain our fellow human beings who are patiently waiting for us to visit.
Rolfe, John (15851623) Born in Norfolk, England, in 1585, to landowners John Rolfe and Dorothea Mason of Heacham Hall, little is known about the younger John Rolfe until he joined the Virginia Company in 1608 and sailed for Country with his first wife, whose name is unknown. The ship on which they were traveling, the Sea Venture, was shipwrecked on the island of Bermuda, a story that later inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest. San Juan Metro Map While marooned, Rolfe’s wife gave birth to a daughter, named Bermuda, and he helped to break down the wrecked Sea Venture into three smaller vessels for the settlers’ escape. Although the family reached Virginia by May 1610, both wife and daughter died shortly after their arrival. Personally addicted to nicotine, Rolfe, an amateur Jacobean alchemist and chemist, conducted extensive agricultural experiments on the native tobacco plants in an attempt to establish a profitable staple crop for the colony. Unsatisfied by the results of his experiments, he smuggled in precious seeds of Spanish Orinoco tobacco, which yielded a crop of valuable leaves for export.
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