In 1744, whilst staying in Metz and suffering from a serious illness, the king, Louis XV vowed that if he survived, he would create a basilica instead of the gothic church dedicated to St. Genevieve (the saint protective patron of Paris since she saved the city from the invasion of the horrific Attila). He did recover and true to his word when he returned to Paris, he instructed the Marquis de Marigny, General Manager of buildings, to build the monument where the ruined abbey of Sainte-Genevieve once stood.
In 1755, the Marquis de Marigny employs the architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot. Soufflot had sent from Rome his idea which was received with great acclamation.
The foundations are dug in 1758. Louis XV lays the first stone in the 6th September 1764.
Financial difficulties and the death of Soufflot in 1780 delays the construction of the building which would finally be completed in 1790, during the French Revolution.
On the pediment is written the quote from Pastoret: « For great men, the grateful homeland ».
The Revolution exploded and the National Assembly decides by a decree of April 4th 1791, to use the building as a burial ground for exceptional individuals who had contributed to the success of France. « May the temple of religion be the temple of the country, and the tomb of a great man become the altar of freedom. » This building was named the French Pantheon.
During the 1st Empire, the building was both a burial ground and a place of worship. The crypt sheltered the grave of great servants of the state, while in the upper part religious ceremonies and often imperial commemorations took place.
From 1821 to 1830, the monument was no longer a pantheon. After an ordinance of December 12th, 1821, Louis XVIII and Charles X restore it as a church (dedicated to St. Genevieve). However, the graves are not removed. Whilst Louis XVIII’s courtiers had questioned if it was proper to leave the remains of the anticlerical Voltaire in a holy place, the King replies, « Leave him alone, he is punished enough having to hear Mess every day. »
The July Monarchy moves the Church of St. Genevieve to the Catholic worship on August 15th, 1830 and re-establishes its first destination. The Pantheon was then called « Temple of Glory. » David d’Angers redid the facade and the famous motto « For great men the grateful homeland » reappears. But during this period, no one will be “Pantheonised”.
From 1848 to 1851 under the Second Republic, it would become the “Temple of Humanity”, without attracting either new tenant.
During the Second Empire (1851-1870), the building becomes a church and the inscription disappears again.
It’s only since 1885, when Victor Hugo died and was buried in the Pantheon that the church of St. Genevieve disappeared. From that moment until now the building is the place where great men honored by the Republic rest in peace.
The pediment represents: the Republic (center) promoting liberty and protecting the people,Sciences (left) – represented by many great scholars (François-Xavier Bichat, Berthollet, Gaspard Monge, Laplace …), Philosophers (Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau …), Writers (Fenelon, Peter Cornelius …) Artists (Jacques Louis David …) – and History (right) – represented by the great people of the State (Napoleon Bonaparte … ) and students of the Ecole Polytechnique.
In 1791, when the notion of the French Pantheon was formed, the Constituent Assembly had the decisive power. The 1794s Convention chose to burry Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but also to remove Mirabeau, and later Marat.
During the First Empire, Napoleon the first assumed this privilege.
Under the Third Republic, it is the members who propose and decide. Some transfers involve violent polemics, such as Emile Zola in 1908.
Nowadays, this choice belongs to the President of the Republic. The family may object to this honor, as Charles Peguy and Albert Camus families did in 2009.
Great men admitted to Pantheon
* Mirabeau, Monday, April 4, 1791 :
Mirabeau died in Paris on 2nd April 1791. This night, torches were lit and his body was taken to the Pantheon, crossing through old Paris. The building however was not yet adapted to its new role and the coffin was actually dropped in a vault of the old abbatial church.
But in November 1792, the discovery of the iron wardrobe at the Tuileries gave evidence that he owned subsidies in the Court … The September 12th, 1794, his coffin was removed from the Hall through a side door, while Marat’s coffin crossed the threshold of honor. In his speech David stressed that: “ the vice and the imposture flees the Pantheon. The people there, called him the one who never made a mistake”. Mirabeau’s remains were anonymously buried in the cemetery of Clamart.
* Voltaire, Monday, July 11, 1791:
The French’s revolutionary decision to transfer the remains of Voltaire to the Pantheon shows their desire to affiliate with the Enlightenment. It was perhaps the suggestion of the Girondins who willingly promoted the ideas of the philosopher.That was one of the first revolutionary ceremonies. It was also an affirmation of the Pantheon as a temple for the great dead; one has to remember that when Voltaire died in 1778, he was an anticlerical and a Freemason, who had been furtively buried because the Catholic church refused him a religious funeral. Besides, the clergy wouldn’t participate in the ceremony of “Pantheonisation”.
Thus, thirteen years after his death (May 30th, 1778), Voltaire’s remains was transferred to the Pantheon. The night before the funeral, the coffin was exhibited in the ruins of the Bastille – the prison where Voltaire and others enemies of the Old Regime had been confined. Since this time, the prison has become a kind of symbol of the Revolution. The ceremony was staged by the architect Cellerier, a follower of the Greco-Roman style.
An orchestra followed the coffin pulled by twelve white horses. The walls were decorated with theatrical masks, with this accolade:
« He fought the atheists and fanatics. He inspired tolerance, he claimed for the human rights against the slavery of feudalism. Poet, historian, philosopher, he enlarges the human spirit and taught him to be free. «
* Jean-Paul Marat, September 21, 1794:
While the body of Marat crossed the threshold of honor, Mirabeau’s coffin was released by a side door. The following eulogy was delivered: « Like Jesus, Marat ardently loved people. Like Jesus, Marat hated kings, nobles, priests, the rich, the rogues and like Jesus, he continued to fight these plagues of society « .
In 1795, he was considered as a traitor. On the 8th of February, his coffin was removed from the Pantheon; the sculpture busts portraying himself were broken and his remains are thrown into the sewage. Today his tomb is found in the cemetery of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont near the Pantheon.
* Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Saturday, October 11, 1794 :
The National Convention vowed a decree in April 14th, 1794 ordering the removal of Rousseau’s remains from the Pantheon. Robespierre is representing the Convention and has to submit the decree. They wanted to establish a spiritual revolution and offer the country civil ceremonies where the ideals of the new morality would be performed, replacing the banned Christian holidays.
* Victor Hugo, Monday, June, 1st, 1885:
Since 1876, Republicans dreamt to restore their Pantheon, their temple of the dead. But the plan passed by the House in 1881, was rejected by the Senate. It’s only the famous author of Les Miserables who would brutally impose it, so much so that the President of the Republic, Jules Grévy decided to give back its republican status.
On Thursday, May 28, 1885, the church is closed to the faithful. The next day, they removed the religious symbols from the pediment of the Pantheon. Despite protests from Catholics, this time the transformation would be irreversible.
Two years before his death, Hugo adds to his will and testament: « I give fifty thousand francs to the poor. I want to be brought to the cemetery in their hearse. I refuse the oration of any churches, I ask a prayer for all souls. I believe in God « , he could not possibly imagine how this statement would correspond with the deist philosophy and secular republican government. The day of his funueral, under the Arc de Triumph appeared a black veiled pauper’s hearse and a huge catafalque built by Charles Garnier, the architect of the Paris Opera.
* August, the 4th, 1889 :
Théophile Malo Corret de la Tour d’Auvergne
Lazare Nicolas Marguerite Carnot
François-Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers, called Marceau
Jean-Baptiste Baudin :
These four people were buried to mark the centenary of the French Revolution.
* Sadi Carnot, 29 juin 1894 :
He was assassinated by the anarchist Caserio on June 24th. He is the only president to have been buried in the Pantheon.
* Marcellin Berthelot, Monday, March 25, 1907:
The scientist died on March 18th, 1907. His coffin was taken directly to the Pantheon, along with the coffin of his wife who had coincidently died on the same day. She had expressed a wish never to be separated from her husband.
* Emile Zola, Thursday, June 4, 1908:
The decision to “patheonise” Emile Zola came from a dim political climate in a traumatized and divided France after the Dreyfus scandal.
A few days before the ceremony Jean Jaures wrote: « The great reform of the Separation, the most important that has been attempted in our country since the French Revolution ». In addition to this, in 1904 France had severed its diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
* Léon Gambetta, jeudi 11 novembre 1920 :
A speech was delivered at the ceremony by Millerand the President of the Republic.
* Jean Jaures, Sunday, November 23, 1924 :
The decision to transfer Jean Jaures’ remains to the Pantheon was an opportunity for the elected government Leftists to benefit from a symbolic anchorage whilst paying tribute to the man who tried to prevent war.
* Wednesday November 17, 1948:
The ceremony takes place the same day for these two scientists.
* Friday, May 20, 1949:
The vigil took place at the Arc de Triomphe, honored by the President Vincent Auriol’s presence -most senior of the state. The procession with the kind that Chopin’s Funeral March evokes, proceeding through the Palais du Luxembourg Pantheon between a double row of soldiers. The ashes of Victor Schoelcher and Felix Eboue would later be placed in the crypt, along with those of Jean Jaures.
* Louis Braille, dimanche 22 juin 1952:
and Jean Moulin, samedi 19 décembre 1964:
* Rene Cassin, Monday, October 5, 1987:
The one that we honor this day was the laying to rest of the lawyer and Nobel peace prize winner in 1968. Rene Cassin had honorably passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
* Jean Monnet, Wednesday, November 9, 1988:
« There is exactly one hundred years, the November 9th, 1888, Jean Monnet was born in Cognac, Charente. His life which was long and enriched tells how a small provincial from Saintonge became the first citizen of Europe … »
* Tuesday December 12, 1989:
The ashes of these three men were also transferred to the Pantheon. The ceremony corresponded with the celebrations of the bicentenary of the French Revolution held by François Mitterrand, President of the French Republic.
« Revolutionaries in your time you were. Revolutionaries in our time you remain… In Salvation and Fraternity. You are welcomed in the temple of the Republic, in the phantom parliament of the free, equal and fraternal men. »
* Marie and Pierre Curie, Thursday, April 20, 1995:
For the first time in history a woman is admitted for her own merits, alongside her husband in the sanctuary of great men.
Note: For fear of radiation, the coffin of Mary was sealed.
* Andre Malraux, Saturday, November 23, 1996:
Malraux is the fifth writer to enter the Hall of Pantheon.
* Alexandre Dumas, Saturday, November 30, 2002:
« With this gesture, the Republic will give full scope for one of its most turbulent and brightest children whose whole life was spent to serve our republican ideals. »
« The name of Alexandre Dumas is more than French, it is European, it is more than European, it is universal”. The coffin of Alexandre Dumas was then descended into the vault XXIV where there lay already those of Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.
Who will be the next great man?
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