Holy Innocents' Cemetery

The Holy Innocents' Cemetery (French: Cimetière des Saints-Innocents or Cimetière des Innocents) is a defunct cemetery in Paris that was used from the Middle Ages until the late 18th century. It was the oldest and largest cemetery in Paris and had often been used for mass graves.[1] It was closed because of overuse in 1780, and in 1786 the remaining corpses were exhumed and transported to the unused subterranean quarries near Montparnasse known as the Catacombs. The place Joachim-du-Bellay in the Les Halles district now covers the site of the cemetery.

The cemetery took its name (referring to the Biblical Massacre of the Innocents) from the attached church of the Holy Innocents that has now also disappeared.

Holy Innocents' Cemetery
Saints Innocents 1550 Hoffbauer
The Holy Innocents' Cemetery, c.1550. The Church of the Holy Innocents, bordering the Rue Saint-Denis, is in the background.
Holy Innocents' Cemetery is located in Paris
Holy Innocents' Cemetery
Location of Holy Innocents' Cemetery
Established12th century

Closed: 1780

Removed: 1786
Coordinates48°51′36″N 2°20′56″E / 48.860°N 2.349°E
TypePublic (not extant)
Find a GraveHoly Innocents' Cemetery


Sources describe the burial ground, then called Champeaux, and the associated church in the 12th century.[1] It was located next to the central market (the original location of Les Halles).

Under the reign of Philip II (1180-1223) the cemetery was enlarged and surrounded by a three-meter-high wall. Les Innocents had begun as a cemetery with individual sepulchres, but by then had become a site for mass graves. People were buried together in the same pit (a pit could hold about 1,500 dead at a time); only when it was full would another be opened.

Charnier at Saints Innocents Cemetery
Charnier with mural of the Danse Macabre

In the 14th and 15th centuries, citizens constructed arched structures called charniers or charnel houses along the cemetery walls to relieve the overcrowding of the mass graves; bones from the graves were excavated and then deposited here.

Between August 1424 and Lent 1425, during the Anglo-Burgundian alliance when John Duke of Bedford ruled Paris as Regent after the deaths of Henry V of England and Charles VI of France, a mural of the Danse Macabre was painted on the back wall of the arcade below the charnel house on the south side of the cemetery.[2] It was one of the earliest and best-known depictions of this theme. It was destroyed in 1669 when this wall was demolished to allow the narrow road behind it to be widened.[1][2]

In the 16th century, the prominent Renaissance anatomist Andreas Vesalius studied the bones of corpses in the Holy Innocents cemetery.

During the reign of Louis XV, inspectors recorded accounts of the difficulties in conducting business in the area due to the unsanitary conditions of the cemetery, caused by overuse and incomplete decomposition of bodies.

Two edicts by Louis XVI to move the parish cemeteries out of the city were resisted by the church, which profited from burial fees. To reduce the number of burials, the price of burials was increased. After a prolonged period of rain in spring 1780, conditions became untenable. On 4 September 1780, an edict forbade burying corpses in Les Innocents and in all other Paris cemeteries.

Bodies were exhumed and the bones were moved to the Catacombs in 1786.[3] Many bodies had incompletely decomposed and had reduced into large deposits of fat ("corpse wax", or adipocere), chiefly in the form of palmitic acid.[4] During the exhumation, this fat was collected and subsequently turned into candles and soap.[5]

Fontaine des Innocents2
Fontaine des Innocents in its original location in the 17th century (19th-century engraving)
French constitution proclamation 1791
The fountain as it appeared in 1791 when the French constitution was proclaimed on the Marché des Innocents
Saints Innocents 1850 by Hoffbauer
The market in the area of the Holy Innocents cemetery in 1850
Fontaine des Innocents today (detail)

The church was destroyed in 1787 and the cemetery was replaced by a herb and vegetable market. The Fountain of the Nymphs, which had been erected in 1549 next to the church, was dismantled and rebuilt in the center of the new market. Now known as the "Fountain of Innocents", it still stands on Joachim-du-Bellay Square.[1]

At its closure, it was estimated that from the Middle Ages until the eighteenth century the Holy Innocents' Cemetery had been the repository of corpses from 22 parishes in Paris, including the remains of those who died at the Hôtel-Dieu, plague victims, and various unknowns who drowned in the Seine, died on the roads, or were crippled at the nearby crossroads of the "Court of miracles", for a total of about two million Parisians.

There are no signs of the charnel house today as the present location contains buildings, arcades, and shops.[6]

In modern fiction

The destruction of the church and removal of the cemetery at Les Innocents is the subject of Andrew Miller's Costa prize winning 2011 novel Pure.[7]

In Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat, Armand's coven of vampires resides in the Cimetière des Innocents when Lestat first encounters them, and they remain there until shortly before the cemetery is finally destroyed.

The cemetery and the Catacombs to which the remains were relocated play an important part in Barbary Hambly's novel Those Who Hunt The Night.

In Patrick Süskind's novel Perfume, the main character Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born here in 17 July 1738.


  1. ^ a b c d Philippe Landru (7 February 2008). "Cimetière des INNOCENTS (disparu)" (in French).
  2. ^ a b Sophie Oosterwijk (2008). "Of dead kings, dukes and constables. The historical context of the Danse Macabre in late-medieval Paris". Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 161: 131–162. doi:10.1179/174767008x330563.
  3. ^ "Paris' Les Innocents cemetery". Retrieved February 6, 2011.
  4. ^ R.F. Ruttan, J.F. Marshall (1917). "The Composition of Adipocere" (PDF). Journal of Biological Chemistry. pp. 319–327.
  5. ^ "You (posthumously) light up my life". Scientific American blog. 15 April 2011.
  6. ^ Trouilleux, Rodolphe (1997). Unexplored Paris. Parigramme. p. 11.
  7. ^ Kyte, Holly (2011-06-16). "Pure by Andrew Miller: review". Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-01-05.

External links

Coordinates: 48°51′38″N 2°20′52″E / 48.86056°N 2.34778°E

Cadaver Tomb of René of Chalon

The Cadaver Tomb of René of Chalon (French: Transi de René de Chalon, also known as the Memorial to the Heart of René de Chalon or The Skeleton) is a late Gothic period funerary monument, known as a transi, in the church of Saint-Étienne at Bar-le-Duc, in northeastern France. It consists of an altarpiece and a limestone statue of a putrefied and skinless corpse which stands upright and extends his left hand outwards. Completed sometime between 1544 and 1557, the majority of its construction is attributed to the French sculptor Ligier Richier. Other elements, including the coat of arms and funeral drapery, were added in the 16th and 18th centuries respectively.

The tomb dates from a period of societal anxiety over death, as plague, war and religious conflicts ravaged Europe. It was commissioned as the resting place of René of Chalon, Prince of Orange, son-in-law of Duke Antoine of Lorraine. René was killed aged 25 at the siege of St. Dizier on 15 July 1544, from a wound sustained the previous day. Richier presents him as an écorché, with his skin and muscles decayed, leaving him reduced to a skeleton. This apparently fulfilled his deathbed wish that his tomb depict his body as it would be three years after his death. His left arm is raised as if gesturing towards heaven. Supposedly, at one time his heart was held in a reliquary placed in the hand of the figure's raised arm. Unusually for contemporaneous objects of this type, his skeleton is standing, making it a "living corpse", an innovation that was to become highly influential. The tomb effigy is positioned above the carved marble and limestone altarpiece.

Designated a Monument historique on 18 June 1898, the tomb was moved for safekeeping to the Panthéon in Paris during the First World War, before being returned to Bar-le-Duc in 1920. Both the statue and altarpiece underwent extensive restoration between 1998 and 2003. Replicas of the statue are in the Musée Barrois in Bar-le-Duc and the Palais de Chaillot, Paris.

Danse Macabre

The Danse Macabre (from the French language), also called the Dance of Death, is an artistic genre of allegory of the Late Middle Ages on the universality of death: no matter one's station in life, the Dance Macabre unites all.

The Danse Macabre consists of the dead or a personification of death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and laborer. It was produced as memento mori, to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. Its origins are postulated from illustrated sermon texts; the earliest recorded visual scheme was a now-lost mural at Holy Innocents' Cemetery in Paris dating from 1424 to 1425.

Edme Dumont

Edme Dumont (1720–1775) was a French sculptor.

Dumont was born into a family of sculptors: his father was François Dumont, his grandfather Pierre Dumont. He received his first lessons from his father, and was admitted to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture in 1768, with his reception piece Milo of Croton. He married Marie Berthault and they had a son, the sculptor Jacques-Edme Dumont. On November 10, 1775, he died at his home at the Louvre Palace and was buried the next day in the Holy Innocents' Cemetery.

List of streets in the 1st arrondissement of Paris

This is a list of streets in the 1st arrondissement of Paris with etymological information.

New Upsala, Wisconsin

New Upsala (Swedish: Nya Uppsala) also referred to as the Pine Lake Settlement, was an early pioneer Swedish-American community in Wisconsin. The short-lived settlement of Swedish immigrants was founded by Gustaf Unonius. It was located in the north central section of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, near the town of Merton, outside Delafield, in the area now incorporated as the villages of Chenequa and Nashotah.

Place Joachim-du-Bellay

Place Joachim-du-Bellay is square near the center of Paris, France, in the 1st arrondissement, near Les Halles and the Pompidou Center. It is named after Joachim du Bellay, a French poet and literary critic (1522–1560).

The place Joachim-du-Bellay was built in 1787 on the location of the previous Saints Innocents Cemetery, after the cemetery's demolition. The Fountain of Innocents now resides in the center of the square, marking the last still standing remnant of the cemetery.

Soap made from human corpses

During the 20th century, there were various alleged instances of soap being made from human body fat. During World War I it was claimed in the British press that the Germans had a corpse factory in which they used the bodies of their own soldiers to make glycerine and soap. During World War II it was believed that soap was being mass-produced from the bodies of the victims of Nazi concentration camps located in German-occupied Poland. During the Nuremberg trials evidence was presented that German researchers had developed a process for the production of soap from human bodies. The Yad Vashem Memorial has stated that the Nazis did not produce soap from Jewish corpses on an industrial scale, saying that rumors that soap from human corpses was mass-produced and distributed were deliberately used by the Nazis to frighten camp inmates. It is now known that Nazi Germany did produce soap from human corpses, but not on an industrial scale.

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