Holy Innocents' Cemetery

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Holy Innocents' Cemetery
Saints Innocents 1550 Hoffbauer.jpg
The Holy Innocents' Cemetery, ca.1550. The Church of the Holy Innocents, bordering the Rue Saint-Denis, is in the background.
Holy Innocents' Cemetery is located in Paris
Holy Innocents' Cemetery
Location of Holy Innocents' Cemetery
Details
Year established

12th century
Closed: 1780

Removed: 1786
Location Paris
Country France
Coordinates 48°51′36″N 2°20′56″E / 48.860°N 2.349°E / 48.860; 2.349
Type Public (not extant)
Style churchyard
Find a Grave 244342

The Holy Innocents' Cemetery (French: Cimetière des Saints-Innocents or Cimetière des Innocents) is a defunct cemetery in Paris that was used from the Middle Ages until the late 18th century. It was the oldest and largest cemetery in Paris and had often been used for mass graves.[1] It was closed because of overuse in 1780, and in 1786 the bodies were exhumed and transported to the unused subterranean quarries near Montparnasse known as the Catacombs. The place Joachim-du-Bellay in the Les Halles district now covers the site of the cemetery.

The cemetery took its name (referring to the Biblical Massacre of the Innocents) from the attached church of the Holy Innocents that has now also disappeared.

History[edit]

Sources describe the burial ground, then called Champeaux, and associated church in the 12th century.[1] It was located next to the central market (the origin of Les Halles).

Under the reign of Philip II the cemetery was enlarged and surrounded by a three-meter-tall wall. Les Innocents had begun as a cemetery of individual sepulchres, but had become a site for mass graves by then. People were buried together in the same pit (a pit could hold about 1,500 dead at a time); only when it was full would another be opened.

Charnier with mural of the Danse Macabre

In the 14th and 15th centuries, to relieve the overcrowding of the mass graves, citizens constructed arched structures called charniers or charnel houses along the cemetery walls; bones from the graves were deposited here.

Between August 1424 and Lent 1425, during the Anglo-Burgundian alliance when John Duke of Bedford ruled Paris as Regent after the deaths Henry V of England and Charles VI of France, a mural of the Danse Macabre was painted on the back wall of the arcade below the charnel house on the south side of the cemetery.[2] It was one of the earliest and best-known depictions of this theme. It was destroyed in 1669 when this wall was demolished to allow the narrow road behind it to be widened.[1][2]

In the 16th century, the prominent Renaissance anatomist Andreas Vesalius studied the bones of corpses in the Holy Innocents cemetery.

During the reign of Louis XV, inspectors recorded accounts of the difficulties in conducting business in the area due to the unsanitary conditions of the cemetery, caused by overuse and incomplete decomposition of bodies.

Two edicts by Louis XVI to move the parish cemeteries out of the city were resisted by the church, which profited from burial fees. To reduce the number of burials, the price of burials was increased. After a prolonged period of rain in spring 1780, conditions became untenable. On 4 September 1780, an edict forbade burying corpses in Les Innocents and in all other cemeteries in Paris.

Bodies were exhumed and the bones were moved to the Catacombs in 1786.[3] Many bodies had incompletely decomposed and had turned into fat (margaric acid). During the exhumation, this fat was collected and subsequently turned into candles and soap.[4]

The market in the area of the Holy Innocents cemetery in 1850

The church was destroyed in 1787 and the cemetery was replaced by a herb and vegetable market. The Fountain of the Nymphs, which had been erected in 1549 next to the church, was dismantled and rebuilt in the center of the new market. Now known as the "Fountain of Innocents," it still stands on the place Joachim-du-Bellay today.[1]

With the final closing, it was estimated that from the Middle Ages until the eighteenth century, the Holy Innocents' Cemetery hosted corpses from 22 parishes in Paris, died from the Hôtel-Dieu, sick with the plague and various unknown (some of which are: drowned in the Seine, deaths on the roads and crippled the nearby crossroads "Court of miracles"), for a total of about two million Parisians.

In modern fiction[edit]

The destruction of the church and removal of the cemetery at Les Innocents is the subject of Andrew Miller's Costa prize winning 2011 novel Pure.[5]

In Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat, Armand's coven of vampires resides in the Cimetière des Innocents when Lestat first encounters them, and they remain there until shortly before the Cemetery is finally destroyed.

In the Disney animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it is possible that the cemetery near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame (or the scene where Quasimodo and Phoebus go to go to the Court of miracles) is a remake of the Holy Innocents' Cemetery, although in the Disney feature film cemetery is situated south instead of north.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Philippe Landru (7 February 2008). "Cimetière des INNOCENTS (disparu)" (in French). 
  2. ^ a b Sophie Oosterwijk (2008). "Of dead kings, dukes and constables. The historical context of the Danse Macabre in late-medieval Paris". Journal of the British Archaeological Association 161: 131–162. doi:10.1179/174767008x330563. 
  3. ^ "Paris’ Les Innocents cemetery". Retrieved February 6, 2011. 
  4. ^ "You (posthumously) light up my life". Scientific American blog. 15 April 2011. 
  5. ^ Kyte, Holly (2011-06-16). "Pure by Andrew Miller: review". Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-01-05. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°51′38″N 2°20′52″E / 48.86056°N 2.34778°E / 48.86056; 2.34778