So French France

French cemeteries from the smallest to the most amazing and the most famous

France has a little more than 40,000 cemeteries, since in many cities there are several. They are on average 1.5 hectares in size. In the past, most of them were located around the church (Jewish cemeteries were located in certain places in certain cities and outside). It was the French Revolution that made them move outside for hygiene reasons. From the smallest, in Normandy, to the largest, the Parisian cemetery of Pantin (with more than 100 hectares), they tell our story in their own way.


The cemetery around the church: a Christian tradition


In Gallo-Roman times, cemeteries were already outside. The Gallo-Romans burned the bodies of their dead and the graves were discovered, often along the roads, when arriving in town. It was Christianity that changed this tradition in the part of Gaul that became France. Indeed, there was no longer any question of burning the bodies since the Christians expected the resurrection of the bodies. No body, no resurrection, can you imagine? So they buried the bodies. And if they were to be buried, they might as well be buried as close as possible to the place of God: the church. And even from the altar of the Church, where Mass is celebrated. The richest people, mainly the nobles, took the habit of being buried as close as possible to the altar. In a dedicated chapel, in a tomb, but very close to the altar. Some were buried in the aisles, and in some very, very old churches, we still find these tombs in the aisle. In very small churches, because at the end of the French Revolution, because of the dechristianization of France and in order to find saltpetre and something to shoot at the coalition countries against France, it was ordered to dig up the nobles buried in the churches. For the others, the less rich, they were buried in the cemetery, located around the church. A cemetery often surrounded by a wall, with a low wall to step over, to prevent animals from digging up the dead. 

A cemetery in Normandy: one of the few around the church as before the French Revolution. Image by user32212 from Pixabay

The French Revolution changed everything. 


This is one of its decrees whose consequences are still visible today. For hygienic reasons, to keep diseases away, the Republic ordered that the dead be buried in a new dedicated place, at the exit of the commune. Cemeteries were therefore created, and became communal, and were therefore the responsibility of the commune. They became secular, and one could be buried there if one was not a Christian, which was complicated or even forbidden in the cemeteries before the Revolution. 

There are so many cemeteries: 


The most famous: . 

Le cimetière du Père La Chaise à Paris en Automne / photo par Elena Dijour/ Le cimetière du Père La Chaise à Paris en Automne / photo par Elena Dijour/ 

It is the cemetery of Père La Chaise, the most famous in Paris and in France. Not for its size (43 hectares), nor for the number of funeral concessions (70 000) but because many celebrities are buried there. Jim Morrison (whose grave is guarded), Balzac, Appolinaire, Yves Montand, Oscar Wilde...

La tombe de Jim Morrisson au cimetière du Père La Chaise à Paris / photo par HUANG Zheng/ La tombe de Jim Morrisson au cimetière du Père La Chaise à Paris / photo par HUANG Zheng/ 

Some tombs are amazing like the tomb of Allan Kardec, a spiritualist and seer, which is flowered all year long or the one of Victor Noir. On the tomb, the bronze recumbent of the journalist lies as he was after his sudden death. He is lying down, wearing tight pants. So tight that you can see the shape of his sex. A shape that cannot be missed because, while the grave is green because of the passing of time, the part of the sex shines. This is because this sex is seen as a symbol of fertility and sometimes people rub it to have children... 

La tombe de Victor Noir au cimetière du Père La Chaise à Paris / photo par Andrea Izzotti/ The tomb of Victor Noir, in the cimetière du Père La Chaise in Paris / photo par Andrea Izzotti/ 

In Paris, there is also the cemetery of Montmartre, smaller. There are the graves of Michel Berger, Dalida, or the famous Samson family. Family of executioners over several generations and whose most famous members were at work to knock off hundreds of heads during the French Revolution. One of them died by slipping on blood while trying to hold up a head and show it to the people gathered around the scaffold. 

The smallest 

And perhaps the most moving, is located in Normandy near Caumont-l'éventé. Here lies Lieutenant James Gerald Marshall-Cornwall who died in 1944 during the Battle of Normandy a few days after D.DAY 

Military Cemeteries

Cometière américain en Normandie / photo par Alzheimhurt/ Cimetière américain en Normandie / photo par Alzheimhurt/ 

There are many military cemeteries, and for good reason, France has been the scene of many wars. Most of the French military cemeteries are located in the North and East of France. Perhaps the most famous is the Douaumont Ossuary near Verdun with a cemetery in front of this huge building with a tower (a lighthouse), which contains the remains of 140,000 unidentified bodies. There are also many American cemeteries. Their territory was conceded by the French Republic to the United States of America, so the heroes are buried on American soil. Some are very well known, such as the Colleville cemetery in Normandy, or Saint-James. There are also German, English and Canadian cemeteries. 


The most beautiful cemeteries 

The landscape cemetery of the Madeleine in Amiens, classified as a historical monument, there are large trees, melancholy tombs and paths that make the detours that every human life does not fail to take, whether it wants it or not. 

Cimetière de Bonifaccio en Corse / photo par Mor65_Mauro Piccardi/ Cimetière de Bonifaccio en Corse / photo par Mor65_Mauro Piccardi/ 

In Bonifacio, in Corsica, there is the sublime marine cemetery that raises its graves facing the great blue. The same is true in Sète, where the view is splendid for the spirits of our predecessors, among them Paul Valéry or Jean Vilar


All Saints' Day, a true French tradition

Chrysanthemus Image par Andrey de Pixabay 

The time when the cemeteries are the most flowered and the most visited is undoubtedly the period of November 1st. For All Saints' Day, many French people come to visit the graves of their loved ones. Two years ago, 35,000,000 people said they did so, that is to say nearly one French person out of two. If the tradition of flowering graves on All Saints' Day is old, the tradition of placing chrysanthemums on them was created by the President of the Republic Raymond Poincaré, who asked that flowers be placed on the graves of soldiers who died for France during the First World War. Chrysanthemums blooming at that time, they were chosen. When the war memorials were created, a few years later, the tradition of the chrysanthemums remained, and not only to flower the memory of the soldiers. 

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme is "monsieur de France" the author of this site. 

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme is "monsieur de France" the author of this site.