The first crematorium in Paris

The first crematorium in Paris

To close

Title: Père-Lachaise crematorium, main elevation.

Author : FORMIGE Jean Camille (1845 - 1936)

Creation date : 1886

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Watercolor drawing.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 93-006083-01 / ARO1992-34

Père-Lachaise crematorium, main elevation.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: April 2007

Historical context

A long postponed decision

The construction of this building, Bosphorus dream on the right bank of the Seine, is the end point of an erratic process. His model was the pyramid of Caius Sextius in Rome, an obligatory ancient reference in this era marked by neoclassicism.

At that time, innovation had come up against the weight of mentalities. Later, Étienne Godde had the chapel reserved for Catholic worship built there.
With the slow cycles that characterize the history of mentalities having done their work, the need for a place to burn bodies was finally expressed even before legal authorization was given. It was not completed until 1908.

Image Analysis

A Byzantine sanctuary

Jean-Camille Formigé built the crematorium in the center of the plateau occupied by the necropolis to the east. First intended for the incineration of waste from hospitals, it is then dedicated to the cremation of bodies. Several ceremonial rooms are set up there to accompany the mortal remains. The relatives of the deceased sometimes disperse the ashes in the garden of remembrance a little further to the east, others have them kept in small stoves set up in the wall of the columbarium which surrounds the crematorium and whose own son Formigé is the author.
Eclectic then marked by historicism under the notable influence of Viollet-le-Duc, French architecture multiplies borrowings from the past. Among the references in vogue, that of Byzantium, the second Rome, then flourished. The great religious buildings in particular are marked by the Neobyzantine influence - such as the Lyon basilica of Fourvière, the Marseille Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde or the Parisian Saint-Pierre-de-Montmartre.

In his project, Jean-Camille Formigé thus revives the central plan, the dome and the half-domes, and makes this secular building a sanctuary resembling an ancient mausoleum. His 1886 watercolor shows the rear facade, facing south-east. Made of black and white stones arranged in successive horizontal bands, the building rests on a base pierced with doors and double doors. It has a central nave and two aisles. The central chapel and the two chapels are capped with semi-domes, the two lateral ones being part of triangular pediments. Under the cornice made up of a drip edge and mutulae runs a frieze (urns, ribbons, braziers and wreaths) which has not been made. From the terrace emerges the main dome, a vast dome of brick and sandstone placed on a cylinder pierced by eight arched bays. Since the 1920s, they have been adorned with works by the glassmakers Maumejean. On this terrace also stand the chimneys corresponding to the crematoriums and two braziers which are no longer in place.


In an age of secularization of society, the successes of a new attitude towards death

For a long time, the Church opposed any funeral legislation that might call into question the natural laws of the putrefaction of bodies. The conflicts between the religious and civil spheres that French society has known since the end of the 18th centurye century subsides with the First World War. The proponents of cremation, of "ustion" as they were called then, rationalists and pragmatists, act in favor of its authorization. Among them, some are motivated by their fight against the power of the Catholic Church, others by the problem of the lack of space for the bodies of the deceased. During the 1870s, several experiments took place in Europe, demonstrating the reliability of the new processes. From 1874, reports the cemeteries office of the city of Paris, the city council, sensitive to the debate on cremation, opened a competition on the best conditions to consider for its implementation. It is specified that any dissemination of infectious elements into the atmosphere, as well as any noxious odor, must be avoided. The law of November 15, 1887 put an end to the debate: relating to the freedom of funerals, it allowed citizens to choose a method of burial other than burial. The legislation of IIIe République shows itself once again fundamentally attached to individual liberty by allowing everyone to decide the fate of their mortal remains. Sensitivities have therefore changed, and even though it seemed totally unthinkable fifty years earlier, the practice of cremation is spreading. But the worship given to the dead - the maintenance of the memory of the loved one who then gained mentalities - also animates the crematists: even reduced to ashes, the deceased is located, and his relatives can meditate either in the garden of remembrance. , or in front of the plaque that houses the urn in the columbarium. Burial remains very largely dominant in the following decades, but incineration has experienced continuous growth since the end of the 19th century.e century. It was not until the aggiornamento of the 1960s that the Catholic Church recognized it.

  • architecture
  • graveyard
  • dechristianization
  • Father Lachaise


GANNAL (Doctor), Burial and cremation, memoir addressed to the Paris City Council, Paris, Muzard et Fils, 1876 Danielle TARTAKOWSKY, We will go singing on your tombs, Père-Lachaise, XIXth-XXth century, Paris, Aubier, 1999 .Jean TULARD (dir.), Dictionnaire Napoléon, article “cemeteries of Paris”, Marcel Le Clere, Paris, Fayard, 1987.Michel VOVELLE, Death and the West from 1300 to the present day, Paris, Gallimard, 1983.

To cite this article

Bernard COLOMB, "The first crematorium in Paris"

Video: FAMOUS GRAVES and Ghost Stories. Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris France