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Last year I wrote about the decision by French president François Hollande to select four people associated with the Resistance – two men and two women – for entry to the Panthéon in Paris in 2015. Tomorrow evening, the four – Germaine Tillion, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Pierre Brossolette and Jean Zay – will be interred in the Panthéon. Today (26 May) the people of Paris are invited to attend ceremonies in the 5th arrondissement, culminating in an event at the Sorbonne this evening. (Full details and a timetable for the two days’ events can be found on the Mairie de Paris website here.

Tomorrow’s Panthéonisation will be the largest (in terms of people entered into the Panthéon’s crypt) since August 1889, when four men – the revolutionary military figures Carnot, Marceau and La Tour d’Auvergne-Corret, plus the politician Baudin – were inhumed as part of the centenary celebrations of the French Revolution. (Baudin, for what it’s worth, was actually a man of the Second French Republic rather than the First. He died in December 1851 during Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s coup d’état, shot down on a barricade on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Efforts to commemorate Baudin during the later years of the Second Empire were somewhat a cause célèbre among many of the republicans who would later assume positions of power during the Third Republic.)

As the plan for today and tomorrow shows, the commemorative and ceremonial events surrounding this Panthéonisation emphasise the act of ‘resistance’, as well as the importance of republican education – this focus on education reiterates one of the elements emphasised by François Hollande in his inaugural speech in 2012 as a theme for his presidency.

Only two of the coffins processing through the cinquième today and tomorrow actually contain remains. It was announced earlier this month that Tillion and de Gaulle-Anthonioz’s families had requested that their bodies not be exhumed from their current graves. Instead, their ‘coffins’ will contain soil from their final resting places. This approach is not unusual in Panthéonisation history. Nicolas de Condorcet, inhumed in 1989 as part of the Revolution’s bicentenary, isn’t really in the Panthéon at all. Following his death in prison in 1794 he was buried in a communal grave, so it was impossible to locate his remains. Questions also remain about whether the remains interred in 1964 as ‘Jean Moulin’ are really those of the résistant. Such cases reiterate the importance of Panthéonisation as a symbolic gesture. Indeed, the French government has argued that those commemorated in the Panthéon with a plaque or a memorial, but not actually inhumed there, should be considered equal ‘Panthéonisees’ (this may not actually be a word). This was last seen in 2011, when the poet and politician Aimé Césaire was commemorated with a plaque due to his family’s wish that he remain buried in his beloved Martinique.

Every Panthéonisation is different. My anticipation of today and tomorrow’s events is partially due to my fascination with the symbolic politics of French republicanism, partially because of my work on commemoration and memory, and partially because I’m keen to see how this ceremony compares to those of previous years. With this in mind, I feel the time is right for a run-down of some Panthéonisation highlights since 1885. Cue the Top of the Pops music…

1 June 1885 – Victor Hugo

The Panthéon’s current status as a secular temple to the ‘great men’ (and women!) of the Republic is down to the author of Les Misérables. He was the first secular Panthéonisee for 74 years, following the Panthéon’s usage as a church during the Restoration and then the Second Empire. Following his death on 22 May 1885, committee tasked with planning Hugo’s state funeral proposed that he be buried not in Père-Lachaise Cemetery, as might have been expected, but in the Panthéon. Following legislation passed by Jules Grévy, president of the Republic, the process of transforming the Church of Saint-Geneviève into a secular temple began. Hugo’s funeral was witnessed by two million people. His (slightly over-the-top) catafalque, for what it’s worth, was designed by Charles Garnier – architect of the Paris Opéra.

Crowds on the Rue Soufflot during the funeral of Victor Hugo, 1 June 1885. © Roger-Viollet. Source: Parisienne de Photographie

Crowds on the Rue Soufflot during the funeral of Victor Hugo, 1 June 1885. © Roger-Viollet. Source: Parisienne de Photographie

4 June 1908 – Emile Zola

Emile Zola died in 1902 from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a poorly ventilated chimney. At the time, some suggested that Zola’s death was suspicious – an act of vengeance, perhaps, for Zola’s role in publicising the cause of Alfred Dreyfus. Zola was originally buried at the Cimetière de Montmartre in a frankly rather naff tomb. In 1906, however, the campaign began to have him reinterred at the Panthéon. In spite of fierce opposition from the conservative right, the support of Georges Clemenceau and Jean Jaurès secured Zola’s Panthéonisation. The event in the summer of 1908 was tense, to say the least, and culminated in an assassination attempt on Dreyfus (his would-be assassin was later acquitted). Zola now rests in Caveau XXIV, with Hugo and Alexandre Dumas père.

The remains of Emile Zola arrive at the Panthéon, 4 June 1908.

20 May 1949 – Victor Schoelcher and Félix Éboué

A real personal favourite for research reasons, this one. Traditionally, revolutionary anniversaries are accompanied by Panthéonisations, and this double inhumation in May 1949 was intended to mark the centenary of the 1848 Revolution. The choice of Victor Schoelcher in and of itself says a great deal about how the commemorative committee in 1948 wanted 1848 to be seen and understood a century on, and emphasises the importance of the post-World War Two context for understanding this centenary. It was hugely symbolic that Victor Schoelcher, the apparent hero in the abolition of slavery in April 1848, was chosen for the honour rather than one of the Second Republic’s more prominent political figures. The decision to simultaneously Panthéonise Félix Éboué, governor of Chad and an early supporter of the Free French, reiterated this Panthéonisation as one designed to speak to the citizens of the new départements et térritoires d’outre-mer – the former French colonies, granted new status in 1946 – as much as to those of the métropole.

It’s also worth noting that although this was officially a double Panthéonisation, three people were actually inhumed – Éboué, Schoelcher, and Schoelcher’s father Marc, in order to respect his wish that they be buried together.

The remains of Victor Schoelcher and Félix Éboué are brought to the Panthéon, 20 May 1949. From a commemorative booklet published to mark the occasion.

The remains of Victor Schoelcher and Félix Éboué are brought to the Panthéon, 20 May 1949. From a commemorative booklet published to mark the occasion.

19 December 1964 – Jean Moulin

It was perhaps fitting that the first Panthéonisee of the Fifth Republic should be a member of the Resistance. Moulin’s inhumation was intended to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the Liberation, and in many ways this ceremony was a perfect representation of the centrality of the ‘Resistance myth’ to Fifth Republic France. Moulin’s coffin was brought to the Panthéon accompanied by a torchlit procession, a reference to his role in the ‘army of shadows’, and the ceremony on 19 December was marked by a lengthy speech by André Malraux – himself Panthéonised in 1996 – that placed Moulin in a heroic lineage stretching back through Jean Jaurès and Hugo to Carnot and the ‘soldiers of the Year II’.

You can watch the ceremony and Malraux’s speech here:

20 April 1995 – Pierre and Marie Skłodowska-Curie

Marie Skłodowska-Curie was the first woman to enter the Panthéon in her own right, alongside her husband Pierre. The ceremony in April 1995, like the events of today and tomorrow, emphasised education and, naturally, science. Each coffin was carried by six students of physics and chemistry from Université Paris-VI. The Curies were accompanied on their final journey up the rue Soufflot by a group of schoolchildren carrying scientific symbols. Speeches were given by François Mitterrand, the French Nobel physicist Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, and – in recognition of Marie Curie’s Polish nationality – Lech Wałesa. Marie Curie’s coffin was lead-lined, due to the risk of radiation from her body.

News report on the ceremony:

30 November 2002: Alexandre Dumas père

Jacques Chirac decided to Panthéonise the author of the Three Musketeers in March 2002. I’ve included this Panthéonisation to round off this little selection for one main reason: it’s easily one of the barmiest there’s ever been. Dumas’s coffin was covered with a blue cloth inscribed with Tous pour un; un pour tous – or, for English-speaking fans of the Musketeers, ‘All for one and one for all’. The evening ceremony saw Dumas’s remains brought up the rue Soufflot accompanied by people dressed as characters from his books. (I have yet to ascertain whether anyone dressed up as the various people guillotined during the Revolution in La Femme au collier de velours or the stories in Les Mille et un fantômes; this could have been just a tad awkward.) Four men dressed as D’Artagnan and the Musketeers carried the coffin to the Panthéon. Just in case this wasn’t quite enough, a woman dressed as Marianne led the procession, seated on a white horse.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

See? Barmy (but brilliant).