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Harmonia Time Capsule: Père Lachaise Cemetery

Purported grave of Peter Abelard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil at Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Situated in Paris’s 20th arrondissement is Père Lachaise Cemetery.  The cemetery was erected by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804, the same year he was crowned Emperor of France.  The first person buried at Père Lachaise was a five-year-old girl named Adélaïde Pailliard de Villeneuve.  Adélaïde’s burial reflected Napoleon’s mandate that every citizen had the right to be buried regardless of race or religion.

Buried at Père Lachaise are thousands of notable figures.  Among them are the German artist Max Ernst, the infamous Oscar Wilde, and Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, a French playwright and actor better know by his stage name Molière.  Molière’s burial in 1804 helped dispel adverse attitudes toward the cemetery’s inconvenient location and lack of Catholic consecration.

The remains of many famous musicians are also housed within the cemetery.  Pianist and composer Ignace Pleyel was buried at Père Lachaise after his death in 1831.  A devoted student of Franz Joseph Haydn, Pleyel set up a publishing company in Paris called Maison Pleyel.  The company produced a complete edition of Haydn’s string quartets, along with the world’s first miniature scores. Pleyel also established a piano firm that supplied Frédéric Chopin with instruments in concert.

In 1817, the remains of Peter Abelard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil were purportedly moved to Père Lachaise, enhancing the cemetery’s prestige.  While the actual resting place is in dispute, visitors to Père Lachaise traditionally leave love letters as tribute to one of the 12th century’s greatest thinkers and one of the ages’ most legendary couples. Six of Abelard’s monophonic planctus survive, as well as one hymn written for Héloïse’s religious order.

Today, the cemetery continues to accept new burials; however, there is limited space, and a long waiting list.  That’s no surprising fact!  Père Lachaise is a final home to more than a million, including Jim Morrison of the rock band The Doors.  It is also known worldwide as one of Paris’s most frequented historical sites, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors per year and standing as a monument to over two hundred years of history.

Music heard in this time capsule:

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