Tag Archives: Pantheon

Cemetery of the Week #151: The French Pantheon


All photos taken by Loren Rhoads in 2016.

The Pantheon
Place du Pantheon
75005 Paris, France
Telephone: 01 44 32 18 00
Pantheonizations began: 1791
Number of interments:
Open: Every day, except January 1, May 1, and December 25
Homepage: http://www.monuments-nationaux.fr

In 451, Attila the Hun threatened the Roman settlement called Lutecia, where Paris now stands. A shepherdess named Genevieve rallied the people to pray for deliverance. When the Huns broke off the siege, Genevieve was proclaimed a savior.

After she died in 502, a small oratory was built over her grave. This was followed in 508 by a church, dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, built by Clovis, King of the Franks.  Three years later he was buried in it. After his wife (who became Saint Clotilde) joined him there in 545, the church was renamed in honor of Saint Genevieve, who became the patron of Paris.

In times of trouble, Genevieve’s relics were carried through the city streets. In 1754, Louis XV credited Genevieve with helping him recover from a grave illness and funded renovation of the church. Jacques-Germain Soufflot wanted the new church to rival St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London.

Foundation work began in 1757, but the hill below was like swiss cheese, so it needed a lot of shoring up. While the crypt was completed in 1763, the cornerstone wasn’t laid until September the following year.

The church was completed by 1790, when the Marquis de Villette proposed burying Voltaire there so that that nation could honor him. He proposed the idea of making it a secular temple to honor the great men of France by interring their ashes in the underground recesses. In April 1791, the Constituent Assembly placed an inscription on the pediment that translates to “A grateful nation honors its great men.”

With much fuss, Voltaire’s ashes were moved to the newly named Pantheon on July 21, 1791.  Rosseau was pantheonized opposite him in October 1794.

Several people were honored with pantheonization, which was then revoked. Mirabeau was the first chosen to be honored, but since his niche wasn’t ready yet, his remains were sent to another church nearby. After he was interred there, it was discovered that he had committed treason against the Republic and he was uninvited. Le Peletier was pantheonized for voting for the death of the king and then being assassinated by a Royalist, but his family claimed his body in 1794. Marat was pantheonized the day Mirabeau was kicked out, but was himself kicked out the following year. After that, it was decided that people needed to be dead at least 10 years before they could be buried in the Pantheon.

IMG_6693Architect Quatremere de Quincy took over the Pantheon in 1791. He decided it needed to look gloomier, more like a mausoleum, so he bricked up all the lower windows. He also destroyed all the religious statuary, replacing it with statues of Liberty and France. Saint Genevieve herself was evicted in August 1792, after the fall of the monarchy.


Early in 1806, the Pantheon once again became a church after an agreement between Napoleon and the Pope. The upstairs returned to Saint Genevieve, but the crypt remained secular. A second entrance was built and 41 people were pantheonized between 1806 and 1815. Fifteen of them were officers, including generals who took part in Napoleon’s victories in Europe. 27 of them were senators.

With the restitution of the monarchy, the king signed the Pantheon back over to the church in its totality in 1816. It was consecrated for the first time in January 1822. Genevieve’s relics were reconstituted somehow.

In 1829, the architect Soufflot was buried in the crypt: the only addition during the reign of Charles X.

The July Revolution of 1830 put Louis-Phillippe on the throne. He closed the Pantheon/St. Genevieve’s church to the public.

In 1851, Foucault installed a pendulum to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. (A reconstruction hangs there now, while the original pendulum hangs at the Museum of Arts and Sciences). After Catholic opposition, the experiment was ended in December 1851.

Also that year, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) staged a coup d’etat to reinstate the Empire. He gave the church back to the Catholics, called it a national basilica, reinstalled Genevieve’s reliquary, and added a chapter of canons.

After the Second Empire collapsed in September 1870, the crypt was used to store munitions while the Prussians besieged the city. The Pantheon’s dome was damaged in the fighting. The Paris Commune took over the church in March 1871 and also stored munitions in the crypt. They were driven out by army artillery.

IMG_6717When Victor Hugo died in 1885, he lay in state beneath the Arc de Triomphe before being inhumed in the Pantheon. No ten-year wait for him. He was joined by Emile Zola in 1908 and Alexandre Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo) was added in 2002.

Other internees in the Pantheon range from statesmen to military heroes to the assassinated President of the Third Republic. The heart of socialist hero, founder of the Third Republic, Leon Gambetta was added in 1920. Scientists include Pierre-Eugene Marcellin Bertheot, a chemist who became Minister of Education and Foreign Affairs, and physicists Paul Langevin and Jean Perrin. Louis Braille, inventor of the most common alphabet for the blind, was added in 1952.

IMG_6701After World War II, an inscription was added upstairs in the church to remember Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, who had served as an aviator and was lost when his plane went down near Corsica.

In 1981, on the day of his investiture, Francois Mitterand laid a single red rose at the graves of Victor Schoelcher, Jean Jaures, and Moulin, who were defenders of Human Rights. Schoelcher had been pantheonized in 1949 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the abolition of slavery.

Pantheonizations continue to this day. In 1987, Rene Cassin, who’d received the Nobel Prize for Human Rights was added. He was followed in 1988 by Jean Mannet, the founder of the European Community.

IMG_6722The ashes of Pierre and Marie Curie were transferred to the Pantheon in 1995. She was the first woman to be buried there on her own merits.

Pantheonizations continue to this day. Currently, there is a push to add more diversity to those honored.

Other cemeteries in Paris on Cemetery Travel:

Pere Lachaise


Napoleon’s Tomb

The Paris Ossuary


Cemetery of the Week #29: the Roman Pantheon

The Pantheon from the Piazza della Rotonda

The Pantheon
Piazza della Rotonda, Rome, Italy
Telephone: +39 06 68300230
Established: 27 BC
Number of Interments: 5
Open: Monday to Saturday: 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and May 1.
Admission: Free

The Rough Guide to Italy reports that the Pantheon is “the most complete ancient Roman structure in the city.” Agrippa, Augustus’ son-in-law, built the Pantheon in 27 BC, the year after Augustus found himself entombed in his mausoleum nearby (subject of a later Cemetery of the Week). That first Pantheon burned down, to be replaced by Hadrian in 125 AD.

In 609 AD, the abandoned building was re-consecrated as St. Mary of the Martyrs. Shortly afterward, the Byzantines stole the gilded bronze roof tiles to adorn Constantinople. The tiles traveled to Alexandria, before being finally lost to history. Plummeting from the splendor of Imperial Rome, the Pantheon’s portico slummed as a fish market during the Middle Ages.

In the 21st century, the Pantheon still isn’t much to look at from the outside. Its stone walls looks rotted and soft as butter. An embankment embedded with miscellaneous pieces of half-excavated architecture surrounds the building. Although no longer a fish market, the church’s shadowy portico remains uninviting.

Inside, the church glows with natural light. It is famed for its oculus — the eye of Heaven — an opening in the summit of the dome that allowed sunlight in. Polished marble of seemingly every shade from peach to red faces the walls. Inset panels of yellow-and-cream stone look like frozen flames and smoke trails. The antico giallo — yellow marble — had already become rare in Hadrian’s time. Its use demonstrated how much he treasured this place that he used it here.

Originally, the Pantheon honored the cult of the twelve gods, a holdover from Greece. Jove stood in the center of the room, surrounded by his family. Other niches held statues of Augustus and Hadrian. Being emperor made them divine.

The grave of Victor EmmanuelTo the right of the modern altar stands the grave of Victor Emmanuel II, first king of all Italy. His epitaph reads “Padre Della Patria”: Father of the Nation. With the help of Napoleon III, Victor Emmanuel unified the cities of Italy. Culbertson and Randall’s Permanent Italians: An Illustrated, Biographical Guide to the Cemeteries of Italy reported that the king expected to be buried in his family’s tomb in Turin, but was deemed too much of a national treasure to be allowed to leave Rome.

When I visited, the black granite balcony that bore his name and epitaph looked very somber. Bright bouquets of orange lilies and birds of paradise softened it a little. An honor guard stood near a book where you could sign in to say you’d visited.
On the opposite side of the room stretched a monument to King Humbert I and Queen Margherita. Humbert was Victor Emmanuel II’s son. After his death, Margherita nursed soldiers in her home during World War I. Their grave sported a fascinating metal pillow supporting a scepter and crown.

Later, while re-reading Permanent Italians, I learned that the painter Rafael also rests in the Pantheon. I’m not sure how I missed him, except that a couple hundred stacking chairs lined up in front of the altar made it challenging to get around the room. The chairs were roped off, so I couldn’t sit and write and get a grasp on the place. In addition, dozens of people milled around as tour groups fought to stick together. A constant susurrus echoed from the high dome.

Rome Access reminds us that the Pantheon is one of the best-preserved Roman buildings in the world solely because the Catholic Church took care of it.

Useful links:

Architecture of the Pantheon

Aerial view of the Panthenon

Historical information about Hadrian

Other church burials on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #20: Napoleon’s Tomb

Cemetery of the Week #63: Westminster Abbey

Cemetery of the Week #70: Salisbury Cathedral

Richard the Lion-Hearted in Rouen Cathedral