Guide to the Earliest Burials in Père-Lachaise Cemetery

I've just just published my Guide to the Earliest Burials in Père-Lachaise 1804-1824. I've fallen under the spell of many others who have become obsessed with the first burials in Père-Lachaise and decided to share what I've learned so far.

Over 500 pages long with nearly 4,400 entries it weighs in at a little over three pounds and is chock full of many of those first souls interred in one of the world's most famous resting places. Each entry consists of: 

Surname(s) and personal information
Epitaph (if applicable)
Division (division number plus street name if applicable)
Reference citations

A sampling of the earliest guides used includes:

C. P. Arnaud (1817, 1823, 1825), Théophile Astrié (1865), Antoine Caillot (1808, 1809),  F. M. Marchant de Beaumont (1820, 1821, 1828), Jules Moiroux (1908), Louis Normand (1832, 1863), Fernando Quaglia (1832, Roger and son (1816), M. P. Saint-Aubin (1816, 1825), and F. T. Salomon (1855).

It's available on Amazon.

View of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery from the Greffulhe Chapel, engraved by Guiguet, Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs

View of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery from the Greffulhe Chapel, engraved by Guiguet, Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs

Guides to Père-Lachaise: an update

On a recent trip to Paris I stopped by the book section in the BHV department store and Galignani’s on rue du Rivoli to see if there were anything new out on Paris Cemeteries. Here’s what I found (and it’s not much):


Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise by Jose de Valverdé and Hervé Hughes (Editions Ouest-France 2017), French. This is an updated version of their 2007 work by the same name. The overall format has not changed: this is basically a history of the cemetery using different eras as backdrops to identifying major figures during that period who are buried in the cemetery. One curious observation: while the page count is virtually identical yet the size of the book is significantly smaller.

Promenade napoléonienne au Père-Lachaise by Jean Tardy and Charles Dolbakian (Vendemaire 2017), French. This is a series of tours through Père-Lachaise focusing on a number of figures connected in one way or another with Napoleon. From Mademoiselle Lenormand to Marshal Ney to Jacques-Louis David and many others this book makes you realize just how much Napoleonic history is buried on that hill. In addition to handy maps with the itineraries neatly laid out each chapter focuses on a specific individual who played a role in the Napoleonic history of France. Although small in size it’s more than 340 pages long with a fine bibliography.

Guide secret des Cimetières Parisiens by Jean-Pierre Hervet (Editions Ouest-France 2017), French. At a little more than 140 pages this slip of a book has little to offer to the serious Paris cemetery researcher — but on closer examination one can find a few interesting curiosities, particularly in the sidebars.

Secrets des Cimetières de Paris by Jacques Barozzi, photos by Bernard Ladoux, (Massin 2012). Arranged by cemetery, division and name with its bilingual text (French and English). Although a bit dated this is still a wonderful overall guide to the major grave sites in the city cemeteries.

New Field Guide to Paris Cemeteries

In 2012 the official Paris city website reported that more than two million people visit Pere-Lachaise Cemetery.  TripAdvisor, one of the most popular travel websites, recently ranked Pere-Lachaise as the 30th most popular of 616 Paris attractions reported by reviewers. Yet the absence of an English-language guide to Paris cemeteries has been a serious gap in travel resources for the City of Light. 

The few English-language books on the subject have been either singularly focused on one cemetery or theme with little helpful information or self-indulgent exercises in how not to help travelers find their way through the maze of Parisian dead. In fact, not since 1986, when Judi Culbertson and Tom Randall produced their engaging but rather flawed Permanent Parisians, has anyone thought to write a serious work on the cemeteries of Paris. 

Until now. 

Doug Keister's Stories in Stone Paris: A Guide to Paris Cemeteries (Gibbs Smith 2013) is packed full of handy information, fascinating stories and a wealth of detail neatly arranged and easy to use. He has also put Parisian burial practices in perspective with his seminal work on funeral symbology -- a nice addition as well.

I first discovered Doug Keister's work on cemeteries in 2006 when I came across a friend's copy of Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. It quickly became my primary resource whenever I had a question about the unusual, enlightening and often arcane symbols found on tombstones. Stories in Stone is one of those critical guidebooks that any serious cemetery traveler must have in her library. Keister's grasp of his subject was matched by his engaging writing style and thoroughness of research. 

Keister's initial field guide was followed up by the successful and equally fascinating Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to New York City Area Cemeteries & Their Residents. And now he has crossed the Atlantic to bring us his unique skill for finding the interesting and unusual in the cemeteries of Paris.   

Relying on the expertise and invaluable assistance of local Paris cemetery expert Marie Beleyme, Keister's latest guide provides the traveler with an easy-to-use, very readable guide to the major Paris cemeteries. While one hopes to eventually see separate English-language guides to the Paris Big Three (Pere-Lachaise, Montparnasse and Montmartre), for the time being this work must be the English-language resource of record.

(Disclaimer: this reviewer is listed as a resource in Keister's Stories in Stone Paris: A Guide to Paris Cemeteries. He makes no apologies, however, knowing first-hand that Keister remains committed to being as accurate, helpful and informative as possible.)