27 June 2011

Cemetery of Montparnasse

One day in Paris while strolling near my hotel, I unexpectedly came across the Montparnasse Cemetery with its many famous residents- writers, sculptors, architects, painters, composers, doctors, historians, comedians, musicians and more.

Jean Paul Sartre, the philosopher, and Simone de Beauvoir, the writer and Sartre's lover, buried together, for instance. Their grave is visited by young couples who kiss the tombstone at the same time for luck in love. Look closely and you'll see the lipstick imprints near their names as well as little mementos left by visitors.


Samuel Beckett, the writer, also receives tiny mementos, even notes. One read: "Still waiting?" and another: "I was here. Godot".

Charles Beaudelaire, the poet, is there as is Porfirio Diaz, a past president of Mexico.

There are so many untold stories in any cemetery and this one was no exception. The stories are hinted at   in word or sculpture, by fresh flowers or signs of obvious care.  One little girl's grave, with a child dropping a flower onto the grave, had a verse carved into it that ends: "The flower of your memory". My French isn't good enough to translate the rest. Even the juxtaposition of this young one frozen in time in 1817 now silhouetted by a modern skyscraper speaks to the finality of death.

Another grave documented a family killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau with only the mother surviving for another 14 years and the daughter or son who memorialized them all.

With the number of sculptors buried here, their various depictions of grief were remarkable and conveyed their powerful, poignant message.

Or some of the other headstone sculptures that told their own stories.

The couple separated and searching for one another.

The grandchild clambering for his grandfather.

Or this striking portrayal of palpable sadness.

This statue stands in the center of the cemetery with the word "souvenir" on it exhorting us
"to remember".

I spent a long time in this lovely place meditating on my ultimately short journey on planet earth and struck by the stories shared by my fellow travelers.

What's on your mind as the week starts?


  1. Beautiful, Mary. I love wandering in cemeteries, reading the stones, contemplating the lives gone. Old cemeteries are a treasure, filled with so much history, philosophy, and the personalities of the deceased and their families. It seems to me that the epitaphs on old head stones said so much more than modern ones do.

  2. this is a really nice post, educational and emotional. you've captured what must be the spirit of the cemetary (no pun intended). The Auschwitz inscription is heartbreaking.

  3. What wonderful stories cemeteries tell, if only we, the living, took time to listen and retell, just as you did. I'm awed by the beautiful statues.

  4. Patti, This was a first for me and I'm hooked.

    CG, Some of them impacted me strongly and immediately. This was one of them.

    Rosaria, I feel like I've discovered a new world at a time when I want to listen and retell.

  5. Very touching post. What I could see of the French stone's engraving is very poetic and sadly beautiful. The sculptures are just amazing. What a fortunate discovery for you.

  6. TB, It was a fortunate discovery. Do you know French? What's it about?

  7. Cemeteries are funny things - we tend to look past them or through them, but seldom AT them - for they remind us that we're all destined for them.

    Thank you for sharing what you've found. Lovely and poignant and, in some things, very sad.

  8. Thanks for sharing Mary, I came over all shivery.

  9. Lou, Yes, some of the images were heartbreaking in their reminder of the burden of grief.

    Lynne, I had that same experience a couple of times that day.

  10. Thank you for sharing your insights about the various memorials that you visited in this cemetery. I agree with the others, this was lovely, poignant and sad.

  11. I LOVE old cemeteries. I can't imagine being able to stroll through such a beautiful one.
    Thanks so much for sharing it!

  12. Sally, You're welcome. Reminds me how sharing our insights or experiences enriches others. I still get surprised by that.

    Krissa, Now, I do too. This was the first but not the last.

    Lauren, Truly.

  13. It was a poignant journey through the cemetery with you, but it's so beautiful and well documented, I really appreciated the walk. Your pictures and words tell the story of the pain that many people before us have endured. Well done.

  14. This was a fascinating journey through the past. I was struck by a past Mexican president buried in Paris...? All of the beautiful stone work, done by people who want to immortilize their loved ones. Wow. Thanks for sharing.

  15. DJan, Thank you. I appreciated the walk and time there as well.

    Nancy, I don't know the story of how he and other foreigners came to be buried there. His memorial was well cared for though.

  16. There aren't many places more interesting than Parisian cemeteries. I've been thinking about the other end of life's spectrum — birth, and all that can shape a new life.

  17. Ruth, It's a new world for me- and an interesting one, for sure. Revel in your involvement in the ushering of new life. It's a blast!

  18. This is another place I would love to wander in for hours! I am always fascinated by funerary art and symbolism, You showed some fascinating monuments, Mary.


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