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To The Guillotine and Back

One thing I’ve learned…

while researching this book in Paris, is there are enough individual sad stories about the French Revolution to fill an entire book. This really hit home when we visited the Picpus Cemetery in the 12th district.

Picpus is the only private cemetery left in the city of Paris. It is a cemetery born out of the Revolution. For background purposes, let me take you to 11 June 1794. France and Paris in particular are in the depths of the period called “The Terror.”

The Terror

The guillotine has been dismantled and moved to the “Square of the Overturned Throne.” This in now known as the place de la Nation (Métro: Nation). For the next 46 days, 1,306 people were executed here. Only on 27 July 1794 or 9 Thermidor was the blade of the guillotine silenced. Robespierre was arrested, attempted suicide, and held at various locations.

On 28 July 1794, the guillotine and scaffold were dismantled and moved back to the place de la Révolution for the purpose of executing Robespierre (and others) that same day. The Terror was over.

Unfortunately, it was too late for many men, women and children who perished during those last 47 days of The Terror. They ranged from ages 16 to 85. They were nobility, merchants, and peasants. They were 16 Carmelite nuns who sang while climbing the 24 steps of the scaffold to the guillotine. It was the family of the Marquis de La Fayette’s wife. It was the husband of Josephine (future wife of Napoleon).

Picpus was specifically used by the revolutionary government to bury the victims. They dug two big pits to throw the bodies into. Each night under the cover of darkness they would carry that day’s load of victims in a cart over to Picpus. They would pass through a gate (still there) and throw the bodies into the pits (still there).

The Cemetery

Why is it so emotional today to visit this cemetery? First of all, this is the only cemetery in existence today where the remains of the victims have not been removed (presumably to the Paris Catacombs). Second, you will see the two pits identified by gravel on the top of each. Third, there is a cemetery section next to the pits that is devoted to the graves of the families of the victims from those horrific 47 days.

The cemetery is still accepting new residents but you must prove that you are related to at least one of the victims. General de La Fayette is buried in the Picpus Cemetery along with his wife. His wife, Adrienne Francoise de Noailles, came from nobility with strong ties to the royal court. Her grandmother, mother and sister were executed and their remains were thrown into one of the two pits at Picpus. Mme. de La Fayette spent many years in prison and died in 1807 as a result of illnesses contracted while in prison. Both are buried under the soil of Bunker Hill.

Do we have a lot of stories? Of course we do. I’m looking forward to sharing these with you. Please continue to visit our blog. Thanks so much for following my blog and my little journey through this incredibly interesting process of writing a book and then getting the bloody thing published.

– Stew

Please note that I do not and will not take compensation from individuals or companies I mention or promote in my blog.

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