Ian Dungavell 2015

Chief Executive, Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, London, UK

On the model of Père Lachaise

In the early nineteenth century, the cemetery of Père Lachaise was perhaps the most famous in the world. One of the sights of Paris, it was claimed to be the model for numerous private cemeteries which were being established in England. Indeed, some have seen it as the impulse for the whole private cemetery movement. But isn’t it odd that, given the traditional antipathy between the two countries – and so soon after the Napoleonic Wars – the English were happy to openly model their cemeteries on a French example? And that the style of burial ground which suited a culturally Catholic country could so easily be taken up by a nation of Protestants? This paper will examine why Père Lachaise was particularly suited for adoption by the English as a model cemetery, and how it became familiar through representation in books and prints as well as several forms of modish public spectacle such as panorama, diorama, and even ‘naturorama’. Cemeteries were part of the exciting world of modern urban life and, if not universally admired, Père Lachaise provided the most attractive example. Very few people seem to have found nothing to like about it.  Examination of contemporary accounts shows that in the English mind ‘Père Lachaise’ was not one single idea, not simply something slavishly to be copied, but more of a brand, a concise justification for a cemetery project which could encompass a variety of meanings. No wonder that so many cemeteries claimed to be ‘on the model of Père Lachaise’ but none looked like it.


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