The history of leaving flowers for the dead stretches back beyond memory. These are some of my favorites: delicately painted ceramic flowers brightening the plain wooden cross on a grave in Paris. The French call them “immortelles.”
The cemetery is pocket-sized Cimetière St-Vincent, down the hill from Sacre Coeur on Montmartre. The little graveyard doesn’t have a lot of famous names inside. Painter Maurice Utrillo is perhaps the best known. What it lacks in star power, St. Vincent more than makes up for in its lovely artwork. There are a number of beautiful sculptures, but what drew me were the more intimate details.
Roses signify love and often adorned the gravestones of Victorian-age women. In Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister says that Christian mythology holds that the rose has no thorns in Paradise. Its beauty and fragrance are meant to remind us what Heaven will be like.
The purple flowers on this grave are more difficult to identify. I suspect they’re violets, which are shy, shade-loving flowers with a sweet fragrance. In the language of flowers, violets symbolized modesty and faithfulness.
Here’s a modern version of immortelles, but their yellow-hearted violets look like primroses to me.
Here’s a nice tour of the St. Vincent Cemetery.
Other Parisian cemeteries on Cemetery Travel: