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The Picpus Cemetery (Fr: Cimetière de Picpus) is the largest private cemetery in the city of Paris, France. It was created from land seized from the convent of the Chanoinesses de St-Augustin, during the Revolution. It contains the remains of French aristocrats who had been guillotined during the French Revolution ( 1789–1799 ). It is of particular interest to American visitors for Picpus cemetery also holds the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834) over which an American flag is always present.
Located at 35 Rue Picpus ( 35 Picpus street) in 12th arrondissement, it can be visited in the afternoon every day except Monday, from 2PM to 6PM (Admission: € 3). The Chapel of Our Lady of Peace is located at the entrance of the cemetery. The nearest Paris metro stations are Nation and Picpus.
The cemetery is only five minutes from Place de la Nation, where the guillotine was set up under the Terror in 1794, on the Place du Trone, then called the Place du Trône Renversé. Between June 13 and July 28 as many as 55 people a day were executed. A pit was dug at the end of the garden where the decapitated bodies were thrown in together, noblemen and nuns, grocers and soldiers, laborers and innkeepers. A second pit was dug when the first filled up. The names of those buried in the two common pits, 1306 men and women, are inscribed on the walls of the chapel. Of the 1109 men, there were 108 nobles, 108 churchmen, 136 monastics (gens de robe) 178 military, and 579 commoners. 197 women were buried there, 51 from the nobility, 23 nuns and 123 commoners. The bloodshed stopped when Robespierre himself was beheaded, and the garden was closed off.
Among the women, sixteen Carmelite nuns ranging in age from 29 to 78, were brought to the guillotine together, singing hymns as they were led to the scaffold, an incident commemorated in Poulenc's opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites. They were beatified in 1906.
In 1797, under the Directory, the land was secretely acquired by Princess Amalie Zephyrine of Salm-Kyrburg, whose brother, Frederick III, Prince of Salm-Kyrburg, was buried in one of the common graves. In 1803, when Napoleon was First Consul, a group of family members bought up the rest of the land, and built a second cemetery next to the common graves.
In a meeting held in 1802, underwriters designated eleven of them to form a Committee:
- Madame Montagu, born L. D. de Noailles, President
- Maurice de Montmorency
- Mr. Aimard de Nicolaï
- The widow Madame Rebours, born Barville
- Madame Freteau widow, born Moreau
- Madame de La Fayette, born Adrienne de Noailles
- Madame widow Titon, born Benterot
- Madame Faudoas widow, née de Bernières
- Madame Charton widow, born Chauchat
- Philippe de Noailles de Poix
- Theodule M. de Grammont
Many of these noble families still use the cemetery as a place of burial. There is also a commemorative plaque in memory of members of these families who were deported and died in the camps during the Second World War.
The General Lafayette, who died a natural death, is buried here, and an American Flag flies over his grave. He is buried next to his wife, Adrienne de La Fayette, whose sister and mother were among those beheaded and thrown into the common pit.
The entrance to the cemetery is at 35 rue de Picpus, in the 12th arrondissement. It is open to the public in the afternoon only. The simple chapel, run by the sisters of the Sacred Heart, holds a small, fine 15th-century sculpture of the Vierge de la Paix, reputed to have cured Louis XIV of a serious illness.
- André Chénier, guillotined on 7 Thermidor Year II, in the Picpus pits
- Richard Mique, architect of the Hameau de la reine at the Palace of Versailles, guillotined 8 July 1794
- Aimé Picquet du Boisguy, general Chouan.
- 1,306 victims of the terror between June 14 and 27 July 1794
- The Carmelite nuns, Martyrs of Compiègne, guillotined and buried in one of two mass graves
- Jean-Antoine Roucher (1745–1794), poet, recipient of Gabelle, guillotined, 7 Thermidor Year II (see the engraving The last wagon)
- Alexandre de Beauharnais guillotined, 5 Thermidor, Year II (23 July 1794)
- Frederick III, Prince of Salm-Kyrburg, German prince, colonel of the German troops, the battalion commander of the Fontaine-Grenelle, brother-in-law of the prince Antoine Aloys of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and brother of Amélie Zephyrine of Salm-Kyrburg, guillotined, 6 messidor, Year II (23 July 1794).
- Marguerite Louise d'Orléans, Grand Duchess of Tuscany (1645–1721)
- "G. Lenotre" (nom-de-plume of Louis Léon Théodore Gosselin, 1855–1935), French academician, historian and author of many works about the French Revolution, including 'Jardin de Picpus".
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