Picpus Cemetery

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Cimetière de Picpus
Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, Paris.JPG
Cemetery entrance next to chapel Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix
Picpus Cemetery is located in Paris
Picpus Cemetery
Location within Paris
Established13 June 1794
35 rue de Picpus, Paris
Country France
Coordinates48°50′38″N 2°24′00″E / 48.8440°N 2.4001°E / 48.8440; 2.4001Coordinates: 48°50′38″N 2°24′00″E / 48.8440°N 2.4001°E / 48.8440; 2.4001
Size2.1 hectares (5.2 acres)
No. of gravesunknown
No. of interments1,306 (two mass graves)
Find a GraveCimetière de Picpus

Picpus Cemetery (French: Cimetière de Picpus, [pik.pys]) is the largest private cemetery in Paris, France, located in the 12th arrondissement. It was created from land seized from the convent of the Chanoinesses de St-Augustin, during the French Revolution. Just minutes away from where the guillotine was set up, it contains 1,306 victims executed between 14 June and 27 July 1794, during the height and last phase of the Reign of Terror. Today only descendants of those 1,306 victims are eligible to be buried at Picpus Cemetery.[1]

Picpus Cemetery is one of only two private cemeteries in Paris, the other being the old Cimetière des Juifs Portugais de Paris (Portuguese Jewish Cemetery of Paris) in the 19th arrondissement.

Picpus Cemetery is situated next to a small chapel, Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix ("Our Lady of Peace"), run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. The priests of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts are referred to as "The Picpus Fathers" because of the order's origins on the street. It holds a small 15th-century sculpture of the Vierge de la Paix, reputed to have cured King Louis XIV of a serious illness on 16 August 1658.[2]

The placename is thought to derive from French pique-puce, "flea-bite", because the local monks used to cure skin diseases that caused wounds that resembled fleabites.[3][4]

The cemetery is of particular interest to American visitors as it also holds the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834), over which an American flag is always present.[5]


The entrance to the cemetery is at 35 rue de Picpus in the 12th arrondissement. It can be visited in the afternoon every day except Sunday and holidays, with hours usually from 2 pm to 4 pm (Admission: €2). The Chapel of Our Lady of Peace is located at the entrance of the cemetery. The nearest Paris metro stations are Nation and Picpus.

Reign of Terror[edit]

The common graves today, designated by the gravel areas

During the French Revolution, the guillotine was set up in the Place de la Nation, then called the Place du Trône Renversé. Between 13 June and 28 July, during the time known as the Reign of Terror, as many as 55 people per day were executed.

The Revolutionary Tribunal needed a quick but anonymous way to dispose of the bodies. The cemetery is only five minutes from the Place de la Nation.

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, 1,306 men and women, are inscribed on the walls of the chapel. Of the 1,109 men, there were 108 nobles, 108 churchmen, 136 monastics (gens de robe), 178 military, and 579 commoners. There are 197 women buried there, with 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, 16 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 as the Martyrs of Compiègne.


Plaque at Picpus Cemetery dedicated to the victims of the Terror

In 1797, under the Directory, the land was secretly 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 of aristocrats 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 11 of them to form a committee:

  1. Madame Montagu, née L. D. de Noailles, President
  2. Maurice de Montmorency
  3. Mr. Aimard de Nicolaï
  4. Madame Rebours, née Barville
  5. Madame Freteau widow, née Moreau
  6. Madame de La Fayette, née Adrienne de Noailles
  7. Madame Titon, née Benterot
  8. Madame Faudoas, née de Bernières
  9. Madame Charton, née Chauchat
  10. Philippe de Noailles de Poix
  11. Theodule M. de Grammont

Many of these noble families still use the cemetery as a place of burial.

The Marquis de Lafayette[edit]

The tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette and his wife in the Picpus Cemetery

Arguably Picpus Cemetery's most famous tomb is that of the Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat and general who was a close friend of many American Founding Fathers including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson and John Laurens, and fought in the Continental Army even before France officially entered the American Revolutionary War. He died in 1834 from natural causes (pneumonia) at the age of 76, and an American flag always flies over his grave, courtesy of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).[6] He is buried next to his wife, Adrienne de Lafayette, whose sister, mother and grandmother were among those beheaded and thrown into the common pit. The soil that covers the grave is soil that Lafayette brought home to France from Bunker Hill in Charlestown, Boston – site of the Battle of Bunker Hill, one of the most prominent early battles of the American Revolutionary War; in 1825, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the battle, Lafayette had laid the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument.

In response to the French gift of the Statue of Liberty, American diplomat Robert John Thompson sponsored a national subscription to erect an equestrian statue of La Fayette above his tomb on the occasion of the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.[7] The project was entrusted to sculptor Paul Wayland Bartlett, but he missed the 1900 deadline and his equestrian statue of La Fayette [fr] was eventually erected in 1908 in the central square of the Louvre Palace. It was transferred in 1985 to its current location on the Cours-la-Reine, in preparation for the Grand Louvre remodeling.

On 4 July 1917, three months after the United States entered World War I on the side of France and her Allies, U.S. Army Colonel Charles E. Stanton visited the General's tomb. Col. Stanton placed an American flag, uttering the famous phrase: "Lafayette, we are here."

America has joined forces with the Allied Powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here.

— U.S. Army Colonel Charles E. Stanton[8]

Every Fourth of July, members of the DAR, the Society of the Cincinnati and U.S. embassy officials gather at Lafayette's tomb for a celebration.[9]

Jewish burials[edit]

In 1852, financier James Mayer de Rothschild built a hospital and hospice next door to the cemetery, at 76 rue de Picpus. Initially intended to treat Jewish patients, Rothschild Hospital was transformed into a general hospital open to all during World War I.[10]

During the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II, French, Polish, and German Jews were rounded up and sent to the Drancy internment camp north of Paris.[11] Pregnant women, the seriously ill and children were sent to the Rothschild Hospital, which became an extension of the Drancy camp, under full guard and surrounded by barbed wire.[10]

Under the collusion of Vichy France with Nazi Germany, its patients who survived their illnesses were all deported to concentration camps. Of the 61,000 from Drancy sent to the camps, only 1,542 remained alive when the Allied forces liberated the camps in 1944.[12] There is a special plaque dedicated to their memory at Picpus Cemetery.

Notable burials in the Picpus Cemetery[edit]


  1. ^ Marie-Christine Pénin. "Cimetière de Picpus: cimetière révolutionnaire" (in French). Tombes & Sepultures. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  2. ^ Alfred Fierro (1988). Vie et histoire du XIIe arrondissement (in French). ISBN 978-2903118334.
  3. ^ "Picpus: A Remedy Against Blight and Mildew - Books - Metropolis M". www.metropolism.com.
  4. ^ "Picpus — News". Paris Cemeteries.
  5. ^ "Cimetière de Picpus" (in French). Office du Tourisme et des Congrès de Paris. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  6. ^ "Picpus Cemetery". pariscemteries.com. Archived from the original on 31 January 2015. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  7. ^ "St. Paul, Minn., September 23rd, 1898. Mr. Robert Thompson, Secretary, Lafayette Memorial Commission, Chicago, Ills. Dear Sir. [Regarding Lafayette memorial] John Ireland Archbishop of St. Paul". Library of Congress.
  8. ^ Charles E. Stanton Quotations, Biography
  9. ^ "France et Etats-Unis: Lieux historiques" (in French). Embassy of the United States, Paris. Archived from the original on 6 December 2015. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  10. ^ a b Anne Landau. "The Rothschild Hospital". Northwestern University. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  11. ^ "This Month in Holocaust History – December – Drancy". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  12. ^ "Related Resources - Drancy". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 16 January 2015.

External links[edit]