Tuesday, 12 January 2016

The Russian Orthodox Cemetery, Sainte-Geneviève-des-bois, Paris


If you have more than a few days in Paris or are on a return visit, then there are several cemeteries that are well worth visiting. I did a post here about Père Lachaise Cemetery which would be my first choice. It is like visiting an open-air sculpture gallery where many of the tombs are the work of well known sculptors and made for distinguished artists, writers, performers etc. You can pick up a little guide at the entrance gates showing a plan of the notable tombs. Montmartre Cemetery is also worth visiting as it is the final resting place of many of the famous Impressionist artists who lived and worked in the area, but over the Christmas holiday I visited the Russian Orthodox Cemetery for the first time. It is an easy train or bus ride out of Paris to the southern suburbs.
After the October revolution more than a million Russians left their motherland many settled in Paris

The little white church within the cemetery grounds was built in 1938 and is regarded as an important historic monument.  It is built in the style of Novgorod churches dating from the 15th/16th centuries


Apart from Rudolf Nureyev's dazzling tomb the cemetery holds many other graves and memorials to notable and distinguished Russians 

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The Imperial Ballet dancer - Mathilde Kschessinska, who was wooed by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia when she was 17 years old, and became his mistress

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The dashing Prince Félix Youssoupov, one of the wealthiest men in the Russian Empire, who along with four others murdered the Mad Monk, Rasputin. 


There are writers, musicians, poets, film makers, the Nobel Prize winner - Ivan Bunin, a memorial to the Cossacks, a family of composers. It's rather overwhelming to see just how many Russian expat tombs and memorials are there. 
Batignolles cemetery in Paris is the final resting place of many Russians too. It used to house the tomb of Feodor Chaliapin, Russia's greatest ever Bass Opera singer, who died in Paris in 1938. Just before his death he was visited by Sergei Rachmaninov who was too grief stricken to attend his friend's funeral. Chaliapin's enormous cortège solemnly passed in front of the Paris Opera House before arriving at the burial site. Forty-six years later his remains were exhumed, flown from Paris, and reinterred at Novodevich Cemetery, Moscow. I mention this because in 1984 H and I travelled behind the so called 'iron curtain' to Russia; coincidentally we were visiting Novodevich Convent and witnessed all the pomp and ceremony surrounding Chaliapin's reburial in his homeland.
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Chaliapin's portrait by Boris Kustodiev 1921
A poignant little memorial to Princess Vera Obolensky, nicknamed Vicky, who was born in 1911 and died aged 33 years in 1944. She was executed at Plözensee Prison in Berlin - a heroine of the French Resistance from Russia. She was born into Russian 'high society' but her family left to live in Paris during the Civil War in 1920 - the period when the Bolsheviks took control. She worked as a mannequin at the Russian fashion houses in Paris, and married Prince Nicolas Alexandrovich Obolensky, who was also active in the Resistance. He was deported and tortured but escaped with his life and became a Russian Orthodox priest after the war. Vicky was responsible for helping to evacuate many British POWs, and posthumously received the Cross of a Knight of the Legion of Honor and the Crois de Guerre. 

58 comments:

  1. Never seen graves like those with the dome in blue or any colour for that matter . Very impressive.
    Graveyards have so much history to tell, if only we knew more.

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    1. I think that these graves are uniquely Russian Orthodox in style and of course they reflect the architecture of their homeland too.
      I enjoyed discovering more about some of the tombs I saw, but I am sure that this particular cemetery could tell many more tales.

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  2. So vivid colours, so much history, so very impressive - thank you, Rosemary.
    You definitely remind me of my best friend Anne, who draws me to every cemetery on our travels (I'm a bit phobic, but learned that it is good to go).
    And when I visit my friends in Paris, this one you showed us will be high up on my agenda.

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    1. Dear Britta - I have always been drawn to cemeteries and particularly ones that hold so much history and interesting architectural details to appreciate and admire.
      When small I used to walk to school through a cemetery, and enjoyed its quiet and solitude and appreciating the passing seasons.

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  3. Dear Rosemary, What a wealth of beauty is to be found at the Russian Cemetery. It's a must see for me when next time in Paris. Thank you for telling some of it's history and the story of those who have found their resting place.

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    1. Dear Gina - because you were so quick in guessing my quiz re: Nureyev's tomb, I had wrongly assumed that you must have already visited the cemetery.
      It is easily found via a train ride and a short bus journey - details can readily be found on google.

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    2. Dear Rosemary, It was the color and design that caught my eye when I saw it published several years ago. It is so spectacular, it became indelibly printed in my mind.

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    3. It was the same for me too Gina - I came across a photo of it somewhere and thought "this I must see one day".

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  4. Fascinating, especially the story of Princess Vera of the Resistance.

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    1. I am sure that there are countless very interesting and moving stories that could be related from within this cemetery. I know that Putin actually visited Vera's memorial in November 2000 along with his wife.

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  5. Well worth the visit. It has been many years since we've been to Paris.

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    1. I am pleased that I finally made it there, it is somewhere that I have wanted to visit for a while.

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  6. Hello Rosemary, It is fascinating to see the final resting place of so many Russians who settled in Paris. Before their demise, they certainly added much to the cultural and intellectual life of an already cosmopolitan city. Chaliapin is especially interesting to me, as I was lucky to hear many of his impressive performances on early records, back when I collected 78's.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - my only experience of hearing Chaliapin singing is on Youtube, but he certainly gives, as you have mentioned, an impressive and powerful performance.

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  7. I admit to being a lover of old cemeteries. My husband used to tease me, I wanted to visit a cemetery when we were visiting another country/city .. Even where I lived in Buenos Aires, the Recoleta Cemetery .. some of the most beautiful tombs with angels and statuary .. I wish my mother in law could have been buried in the Russian Cemetery .. it would have been fitting. When she was a child, her parents sent her with her 2 young brothers away from Russia where life was getting to be horrible. The children were saved, the parents perished and each child grew up in a different country and is buried in different countries .. none of them near the other. I know when you die , these things don't mean anything, but I find it terribly sad.

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    1. That was such a tragic period for your husband's family - I met a White Russian lady when I lived in Scotland who had fled during that same period. Her life was so very sad and lonely.

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  8. Dear Rosemary, I really enjoyed visiting the Russian Orthodox Cemetery near Paris with you. The church is very beautiful and I loved seeing the Russian Orthodox tombstones, which I have never before. The flower pottery to decorate the graves is also new to me. So much more lovely and appropriate than the ugly plastic flowers that you often see nowadays. All in all a cemetery, where one could be considered lucky to be buried there.
    Warm regards,
    Christina

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    1. The pottery flower memorials are lovely - you see them regularly on the Continent, but we don't have them here either. They are especially pleasing to see during the winter months when fresh flowers are expensive and do not last long out of doors.
      Thank you for visiting Christina and I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the post.

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  9. So neat! When I was fifteen I got to spend three days in Paris and went to so many cemeteries. It was so incredible and profound for a teenager from America to see these old graves. Thanks for the post!

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the post Marica and that it also reminded you of the time that you spent in Paris too.

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  10. Beautiful, I've seen all the three cemetries you mentioned. Nevertheless, I'm not a grave aholic when I spend half an hour there I want to run away. These graves are so crowded, so different from visiting an old English graveyard around a church, full of long grass and weeds which I like much more.
    What I really love on these cemetries are the ceramic flower memorials often showing violets.

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    1. You are right Janneke these graveyards are very different from an English country churchyard. In an English country cemetery you can sit down happily on a grassy hillock and maybe even enjoy a picnic surrounded by the long grasses and wildflowers amongst the tombs without feeling that it is a morbid place to be. Of course our graveyards are so old and go back to a time when the churches were originally built.
      One of the things that I like about the cemeteries in Paris are the stories that they tell us about the people that are buried there and why and where they came from and also the use of sculpture by often famous people.
      I am sure that you know that pretty little violets have long been associated with death from the time of the Greek myths.

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  11. A riot of color and yet very serene. Your photography is sublime.
    We have no cemeteries even remotely like it here. Our little New England town has a very picturesque cemetery; it's lovely in the Fall.

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    1. I would love to see your local cemetery Linda should you decide to do a post on it in the future.

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  12. Though living for 5 years in Paris, I never visited the cemeteries, so much to see, very interesting post ! Will absolutely visit next time in Paris !

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    1. Delighted that you enjoyed seeing it Jane, and hope that you will have a chance to visit sometime when next in Paris.

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  13. So sad, so interesting and so beautiful all at once. An incredible place. xx

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    1. Dear Amy - it was nothing like I had imagined, but I found it as you suggest, very interesting, and also beautiful. I loved the little blue and gold domes on the tombs topped with their Russian Orthodox crosses.

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  14. Prince Felix Youssoupov and Vera Makaroff; two people who lived lives of complete contrast.

    As always, an informative post with beautiful photos.

    Thank you

    Ms Soup

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    1. Thanks Ms Soup - there is a wealth of history and interesting lives to discover within this cemetery.

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  15. I always find it strange for churches to have domes that is symbolic of Islam.

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    1. The dome in architecture seems to have a strong appeal for most religions

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  16. A wonderful post, with all the history of the people layed to rest there.

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    1. Thank you - I am so pleased that you enjoyed reading about the history of some of those who rest in the cemetery.

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  17. That is such a beautiful and colourful cemetery especially those beautiful flowers and the blue topped grave stones. There is so much history to be found here! Sarah x

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    1. I think that if one were to spend time researching just who exactly is lying in this cemetery then there must be many interesting, possibly frightening, and heroic tales to be told.

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  18. Always like the domes.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. I agree Russian domes are very attractive

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  19. It's lovely to see the colour we know as "Bodrum blue" adorning the graves.

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    1. I knew that blue and white reminded me of something but couldn't put my finger on it - of course, thank you, it is Bodrum blue, a little touch of Turkey.

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  20. Happy New Year, Rosemary! The Russian blue domes with cross on top of them are so attractive. With so much Russian feel in the cemetry, I wonder Russian origin people feel nostalgia for their homeland? To me, walking around the cemetery would be learning about Russian history on my first visit, and then it would become place for meditating. Recently I met my Russian blog friend in person, she told so many old architectures were destroyed and many treasures were kept in France. She often travels to western Europe, so I’ll let her know this place, she might have known already though.

    Yoko

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    1. Hello Yoko - if your Russian blog friend does not know about this cemetery and does travel to Paris at some time then I think that she would be very interested to visit it. I had no idea that so many white Russians had fled their homeland to live in Paris.

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  21. I'm drawn to Orthodox images of buildings, religious icons etc. and the stories of Russian exiles. The grounds of the Paris cemeteries are rich in imagery and information on the memorials that would help one to do research. Old burial grounds fascinate me; the way different cultures express this rite of passage. I prefer an English parish graveyard to modern Italian cemeteries although it's a custom to visit relatives in both cultures in our families. I've wandered around the old cemetery in Rome when waiting for someone who was having lessons at the central university as it's near there, but have yet to visit the English cemetery. I have to be in the right frame of mind to visit these places!

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    1. Yes, you are right it is interesting the way different cultures express this rite of passage. I remember being in a small Austrian village and every evening the families of the dead went to the cemetery and placed candles on the graves. The cemetery became a mass of flickering lights, and I thought that it would be rather spooky but it wasn't.

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  22. Stunning photos, very colorful beautifully presented with interesting historical information. A feast for the eyes and food for thought.

    Best wishes

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    1. Thank you for visiting and commenting Joseph - I am pleased that you found the post interesting and that it also gave you food for thought. Please do visit again.

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  23. A beautiful place to visit and very interesting post too, thanks you.

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    1. Thanks Suzie - I have wanted to visit this particular cemetery for a while mainly to see Rudolf Nureyev's tomb. I did not anticipate that it would look like it did, and that I would find so much more there of interest too.

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  24. As always it's such a pleasure to be guided by you through historic and beautiful places sweet Rosemary. The combination of your words and beautiful pictures always leaves me with a longingto see the places you take us to. Thank you so much for sharing all your little treasures with us.

    I hope you'll have a lovely weekend Rosemary.♥

    Charlie
    xx

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    1. Thanks dear Charlie - you are always so kind and generous with your comments.

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  25. Lovely photos as usually. I love the cemetery, it is very different and very beautiful.
    Hugs

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    1. It is a place that I found fascinating to visit Orvokki

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  26. What an amazing post Rosemary! Such rich stories reside in these cemeteries - I felt particularly touched reading about Princess Vera. Your photography is beautiful and you have a way of making history come to life.

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    1. Thank you Wendy - there must be a book full of stories and tales to tell about people lying within this Russian cemetery who fled their homeland following the October Revolution.

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  27. Absolutely fascinating, Rosemary. And well told as well as beautifully illustrated, as usual. What is it about cemeteries?!! BTW - I don't think I wished you a Merry Christmas (time!) - but I know it's not too late for Happy New Year.

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    1. Thanks Mike - keep up your good work in 2016 and carry on entertaining us all on A Bit About Britain in your own iminitable style.

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  28. Such a beautifully-illustrated and interesting post, Rosemary. To my loss I haven't visited any of the cemeteries you mention and must try to do so one day. I knew the exodus from Russia after the Bolshevik revolution had been huge, but not that so many had settled in Paris. A fascinating read.

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    1. I wonder if you are watching War & Peace on the TV - I had wondered why so many Russians gravitated to Paris, but it has become obvious to me whilst I have been watching the serial. The Russians seem to feel a great affinity with France. Many of their buildings particularly in St.Petersbury were designed by French architects. They also used French at that time as their language of diplomacy.

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