Temple of a Nation

Call me morbid, but it is rather fascinating to see how a nation inters its most revered citizens –not to mention who is so honored. In the U.S., we have Arlington National Cemetery, in Florence, Italy there’s Santa Croce Basilica e Musée Dell’Opera and in France it’s the Pantheon.



The Pantheon in Paris began as a basilica in the 6th century. Saint Geneviève, who is credited with saving Paris from Attila the Hun, was buried here in 512 AD. Her presence is prevalent as the current structure was built in 1744 by Louis XV to honor her, the patron saint of Paris. The king believed his prayers to Saint Geneviève helped him recover from a serious illness.


Painting captures Geneviève on her deathbed.

During the French Revolution, Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “the father of equality,” were interred here. The basilica had, by official decree, been turned into “a temple to house the remains of the nation’s great men.”

Apparently, there were no great women worthy of burial here. Prior to 2015, there were just two, Marie Curie, and another woman buried with her husband. For centuries, only a saint and a scientist made it on their own merits to be honored in the temple of their nation.

The Pantheon was given over exclusively to secular use in 1885 with the funeral of Victor Hugo. Victor rests here along with the writers Émile Zola and Alexandre Dumas. But you won’t find George Sand, pseudonym of Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dudevant, or Simone de Beauvoir or Madame de La Fayette or any other of a long list of French female writers.


The Pantheon also pays tribute to important moments in French history. I particularly liked the sculpture, The National Convention, which commemorates the founding of the French Republic in 1792. Liberté. Égalité. Fraternité. At the Pantheon, the emphasis is on brotherhood.



But that began to change just this month. Finally, in the 21st century, women were deemed worthy of the Pantheon.


May 2015 saw two women, and two men, inducted into the Pantheon.

The induction this month of French Resistance fighters Germaine Tillion and Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz, a niece of former President Gen. Charles de Gaulle, brought those honored in the Pantheon to three women and 72 men.

I live in a glass nation and should definitely not throw stones. Afterall, back in the USA, we’re trying to determine if a female is worthy enough to replace Andrew Jackson on our $20 bill.

My vote is in for Harriet Tubman. Seems a champion of the Underground Railroad is a better symbol of the American values of freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness than a guy who authored the Trail of Tears.

Methinks even the French would agree.


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