|History of French Traditions
|Funerals in France
Unlike many ancient arts, the art of embalming was not completely lost during the
Middle Ages. The bodies of William the Conqueror and his wife, Mathilda, buried
for 500 years, were discovered in Caen, France, in the 16th century.
France is one of those countries that has been burying their dead for centuries.
King Louis the XIV ordered a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers: the
name is a shortened form of hôpital des invalides. The selected site was suburban
in the seventeenth century. By the time the enlarged project was completed in
1676, it had fifteen courtyards, the largest being the cour d'honneur ("court of
honor") for military parades. At the time it was felt that the veterans required a
chapel, and daily attendance was required. Napoleon was moved to the most
prominent location under the dome at Les Invalides in 1861. There are many of
France’s prominent military generals, and leaders buried there. William III of
England was so impressed by the complex, in 1694 he set out to emulate it, in the
form of military Greenwich Hospital.
Burial ground is premium now a days, but before the 1800‘s, there were many
cemeteries in Paris, that were run by the church. Due to greed and were not
burying people properly, if at all, the remains ended up in the walls of the
churches, leaving a rancid smell leaving the living open to disease. Responding to
growing concerns about the dangers presented by having the largest cemetery (Les
Innocents) in the city right next door to the largest outdoor food and meat market
(Les Halles), in 1786 the French government made the decision to ban any future
burials within the center of the city. At the same time they also decided to close all
the existing cemeteries, most of which were connected with the city's churches,
and remove all the remains. Most well to do people were moved to Pere-Lachaise.
Over 6 million other people were moved to an enormous underground warren of
tunnels in an old quarry south of the city, and thus were born the Paris catacombs.
The Catacombs in their first incarnation were unorganized at best, rocks taking
over some many of the bones that had been dropped through the opening in the old
farmhouse that had been renovated to allow bodies to be dropped down one shaft
and the living to go into the Catacombs through another. The man who took over
care of the Catacombs after the 1789 revolution took great care to get the ossuary
in order. He painstakingly took care to place the bones in pillars, and placed skulls
in geometric and heart shapes. When the catacombs had finally been organized
people were allowed to enter, many noted the sign that says “Stop! This is the
Empire of Death”. The catacombs are in the same condition they were when
opened, and maintained in the same almost campy way. (The Catacombs, as well
as the cemeteries are huge tourist attractions for their esthetic viewing, and
curiosity of the tunnels lined with bones of thousands of people)
Nearby Denfert-Rochereau you can also find the famous Paris "catacombs"
where the bones of millions of anonymous Parisians, which were removed from
numerous cemeteries around Paris at the end of the 18th century, are presently on
|European Funeral History
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