Today we went to the Cemetière du Père-Lachaise, which was established by Napoleon in 1804. It is a very beautifully laid out cemetery set on a hill in the 20th arrondissment. Here many famous people were burried over the last 200 years as well as WW1 memorials and some French presidents. It is said to be the most visited cemetary in the world. We saw many famous gravestones but the two that left the most impression on me were those of Oscar Wilde and Peter Abelard and Heloise. Oscar Wilde’s grave is visited by many admirers who now leave lipstick prints (kisses) and their names signed on his gravestone. If any of you speak French (though I believe you can find all of them with English subtitles anyway), Paris je t’aime is a great set of films set in each of the 20 arrondissments. Some are even in English. Though you can’t find all of them on youtube, some are there. One in particular is set in the Père Lachaise and you will recognize the actors even! Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek4D7Rrq144. Apparently there is also a New York, I love you but we haven’t seen it yet and so I am not recommending it. Paris Je t’aime is lots of fun though and give you a little sense of what Paris is like.
Anyway, back to Père Lachaise. The story of Peter Abelard and Heloise is most commonly believed to be “one of the greatest love stories of all time”. Some believe that it was not so and that the story was sensationalized. I am going to give a brief and unworthy summary of the love story. If you are interested, I’m sure you can read more on it online. Here goes: Heloise was considered one of the most educated women of her time and incredibly beautiful and Abelard one of the greatest thinkers of the 12th century (Richard could probably tell you much more of his exploits, but for now he was very famous and even set up his own school at the age of 22!). They fell in love and had an affair behind her uncle’s back. When he found out they were forced to separate, but that didn’t stop them from seeing each other. They continued their affair behind his back and later found out that Heloise was pregnant. Abelard then asked for forgiveness from her uncle and asked for permission to marry her. The uncle assented to the marriage, but Heloise was reluctant to marry Abelard because of the shame it would bring to his name. She finally relented but they married in secret and left with Abelard’s sister. Heloise went to stay with the nuns at Argenteuil. Thinking that Abelard had cast her off, in his vengeance her uncle he snuck into Abelard’s room in the middle of the night and castrated him! Afterwards, they both committed themselves to God and lived lives of celibacy in monasteries. Despite all this, throughout their lives they continued to write love letters to each other which have become very famous. After Abelard’s death he was buried at St. Marcel. However, later on in secret his remains were carried to Heloise and given to her care. When she died in 1163 she was buried next to him. Their tomb was moved many times, but now rests at Père Lachaise.
We really enjoyed walking through the cemetery. There are many old beautiful tombs, much more elaborate than the ones I’ve seen back home. Norah loved figuring out how to walk along the cobblestones. After we hoped back onto our bikes and road home. It was a beautiful day, warm, but showing signs of fall. We even found a Parisian garage sale on our way and Richard bought a couple Asterix and Obèlix books. I think we will really miss Paris weather when we return home…especially since we will be coming from a Paris December of something around 8 degrees celcius (around 46 degrees F for those in the US) to an Indiana December….