Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Few More Tombs

In Paris, there is a place called L’hotel des Invalides, or more simply Les Invalides. King Louis XIV founded it in 1670, as a place to house and care for the disabled veterans of his wars. It is now home, among others, to the Museum of the Army and the Tomb of Napoleon.

The sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte, made of red porphyry on a green granite base, lies, at Les Invalides, in the crypt of the Church of the Dome, as majestic as once was this Emperor of the French. Napoleon died and was interred on Saint Helena but, nineteen years later, in 1840, King Louis-Philippe of France returned his remains to Paris. Within the sarcophagus, Bonaparte’s body rests in five successive coffins, made of tin, mahogany, lead, lead again, and ebony.

In the Saint-Gatien Cathedral in Tours, I was very touched by the sight of this tomb, that of the children of King Charles VIII and of Anne de Bretagne - Charles Orland, dead at three in 1495 and Charles dead at 25 days in 1496. For me, the monument captures the sweetness of childhood and conveys an even more acute pain at such an early loss.

In Caen lies William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England.

The Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Men’s Abbey) was founded by William in 1063 as penance for marrying within the prohibited degrees. For the same reason, his wife, Matilda, a distant cousin and daughter of the Count of Flanders, founded the Abbaye-aux-Dames (Ladies’ Abbey). She died in 1083 and was buried in the Trinity Abbey Church in the Abbaye-aux-Dames. He died almost four years later and was buried in the Saint-Etienne Abbey Church in the Abbaye-aux-Hommes.

William the Conqueror's original tomb, a magnificent marble mausoleum, was desecrated by Huguenots in 1562 during the religious wars. His remains were entrusted to the monks but a new intrusion of the Protestants scattered the bones of which only a hipbone was saved. In 1742, King Louis XV gave permission to the monks to transform the tomb into a simple sepulchral vault covered by a stone. In 1793, in the French Revolution, the tomb was once again desecrated. In 1801 it was replaced by the marble stone that we can see today.

In the Rouen Notre Dame Cathedral, painted many times by Claude Monet, there rest, on opposite sides of the altar, the heart of Richard the Lionheart (1157 – 1199)

and the king’s older brother, with whom he often quarreled, Henry the Young King (1155-1183), the second of the five sons of King Henry II of England and of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The Cathedral also has the tomb of Rollo (Hròlfr or Robert) (c860-c.932), one of Richard's ancestors, founder and first ruler of Normandy.

There are several places who claim to have the head of Saint John the Baptist, among them the Amiens Cathedral, the tallest complete cathedral in France. It seems the head was brought home by Wallon de Sarton from the Fourth Crusade in Constantinople. To whomever it belonged, it’s still an impressive sight peering at you from the ornate reliquary.

And last, but not least, there is the American cemetery at Omaha Beach…

They were not kings or, on the contrary, they were…

Monday, August 17, 2009


for Tante Paula, who could not linger

The night has taken you
under her wing.
I wish I could hope
all those stars
were candles
lit by heaven
for your beautiful soul
even sisters.

But it’s cold
and I fear
it is just