All Saints’ Day … Toussaint …in France … cemeteries … November 1 …

The French are inclined to hide a toilet. In a bistro or restaurant you will have to ascend or descend some steep and narrow steps to reach it. (I’ve always wondered how one is supposed to manage it after a glass or two too many, or if your knees aren’t working as well as they […]

Together in life; together in death. Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris

The French are inclined to hide a toilet. In a bistro or restaurant you will have to ascend or descend some steep and narrow steps to reach it. (I’ve always wondered how one is supposed to manage it after a glass or two too many, or if your knees aren’t working as well as they used to.) And there was a time when you needed a jetton which one had to buy at the counter for 20 centimes with which to unlock the door.  Odd though that in France one always says toilets: yes, even when it is just one toilet for male and female to share, one employs the plural.

Contrary to toilets, cemeteries in France are very much on display.

And this time of the year even more so for November 1 is All Saints’ Day, a public holiday (bank holiday) and it is the day when the French visit the graves of their departed loved ones. I wrote about this here in 2009 when I focused on the chrysanthemum flower: it is this flower that the French put on the graves which means it is very much the flower of the dead in France.

What I can tell you is that the French look very well after their cemeteries.  I can say they are proud of how they are not forgetting their departed ones. Even those they have guillotined lie in well-kept mass graves: no names though, just green green grass under tall tall trees, comfortable in death which they – the killers – did not offer their victims. But that is another story.

I visit cemeteries. I do so as a tourist: in I go, take some pictures, and out I go. Fortunately.

My favorite is the Russian cemetery at Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, a commune outside Paris. It is in this cemetery where Rudolph Nureyev lies buried.  I wrote about this cemetery here.

I also find Père Lachaise Cemetery very interesting and the tombs very beautiful. I wrote about it here and here. This is where Oscar Wilde lies buried without his manhood. What I mean is that the manhood had been chopped off the figure on the sculpture.

Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Gertrude Stein (a rose is a rose is a rose) and her lover Alice B. Toklas lie buried here too. So does Edith Piaf.

Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas’ s grave in Pere Lachaise. Note: no roses.


Montparnasse Cemetery is also very interesting and without doubt worth a visit.

Axel Munthe who wrote one of my favorite books ‘The Story of Saint Michele’ lies buried here.

So does Maupassant with these words on his tomb: Chacun garde au fond du coeur un souvenir que ne veut pas mourir. C’est un bruit de pas, le son d’une voix, un prénom ou un sourire. Chacun garde au fond du cœur une étoile du bonheur.Each of us keeps at the bottom of his heart a memory which does not want to die. It is the sound of a footfall, the sound of a voice, a name or a smile. Each of us keeps at the bottom of his heart a star of happiness.

Maupassant’s grave in Montparnasse Cemetery

Already today the sidewalks outside France’s florists are lined with bouquets or pots of chrysanthemums. Tomorrow they will also be set out at the gates of cemeteries.  However, where once All Saints’ Day was a solemn day of remembrance and mourning when one even felt that to smile was forbidden, many of our large stores and most of our shopping malls will be open. End of month – people have been paid – people have money – so why close the shop!

To Christians, All Saints’ Day is the day when all saints are celebrated. November 2 is All Souls’ Day, the day when one should in fact visit graves, but because it is not a public holiday, the French go to the cemeteries on November 1.

The day was proclaimed a day of solemnity when all activity should cease on July 16, 1801 by Napoléon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII (1742-1823, and Pope from March 14, 1800-August 20, 1823). It was then also that Catholicism  was declared the religion of most of the citizens of France.

A naked lady on another of the tombs of Montparnasse Cemetery


On one of the graves of Pere Lachaise Cemetery.


The dos and do-nots when someone has died in France:

I must just say that I hope you do not need to read this.

A body must be buried in a coffin. Coffins are regulated and one which was authorized, say in 1960, may no longer be so now in 2012.

It is illegal to keep human ash in your home: in France human ash has the same status as a body since 2008. Ashes must be scattered in a remembrance garden or elsewhere (at sea for example) but permission must be obtained from the police. To take ashes from France permission is also needed.

To take a body from France the body must have been embalmed and of course permission from the police to transport it must be obtained.

If a body is left to science, remember that when it is no longer needed the next of kin would have to pay for the burial or cremation. And for the concession in the cemetery.

And know that bodies can’t be frozen in France and kept in a deep freeze down in the basement.

I will spare you the rest.











Marilyn Z. Tomlins

3 Responses to “All Saints’ Day … Toussaint …in France … cemeteries … November 1 …”

  1. 3
    Umair Says:

    Pleased to see that a friends orgsaination exists. I tried to visit my fathers grave in December, and the whole row of headstones looked to have disappeared. He is interred in the far bottom left end having passed away in October 1978, and is amongst other Catholics (Donald Francis Harrington). is it possible that some headstones have been removed because of the swampiness of the ground down there, and if so, when will they be replaced.

  2. 2
    Basem Says:

    I remember, not so long ago, a trek thru the cmeeteries of lower merion here in PA. with Mary and My Dad and cousin Jack Sturgis. Didnt we have fun that day? I also remember going to the cemetery with my grandmother Levengood, to clip and tend, and it did feel so comforting.. I miss you cousin.Mary Reply:November 4th, 2009 at 2:42 pmAh, memories . I haven\’t heard from Jack in ages though, have you?

  3. 1
    Lynda Says:

    I too love to wander around cemeteries, my OH will go tomorrow to clean the tomb of his father and son, he’ll place the chrysanthemums, when he returns I’ll still be able to smell the plant on his hands.

    I never buy or send bouquets that contain them, because to me they are the smell of death. Horrid. So think of this next time any of you buy garage flowers !

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