Sorry; I couldn’t resist the pun. Our local commune’s Bulletin Municipal (annual report) contains a lot of practical information. This year’s included an article about regulations relating to cemeteries. Now, none of us wants to dwell on our mortality but if you live in France you need to know how they do things. And you’ll find a few surprises.
In France, cemeteries are often on the outskirts of towns and villages, whereas the church is in the centre. Some of the older churches around here have a graveyard; for example, the church at Tesseyroles, which we are helping to restore, and the beautiful little chapel at Selgues, recently restored to its former glory. Cemeteries are peaceful places, unfrequented except around Toussaint (All Saint’s Day, 1st November) when the French remember their forebears. Then they become hives of activity as people clean and adorn their family vaults with pots of chrysanthemums.
Getting a concession
To be buried in a particular cemetery you have to acquire a “concession”. This gives you the right to a plot of land in which to bury a coffin or an urn. The local mairie allocates concessions. Nothing obliges them to comply with your request, unless you have a family vault in one of the local cemeteries. Then you can be buried there even if you don’t live in that commune.
If the commune has several cemeteries – ours has nine – the conseil municipal (town council) decides where to grant the concession. The SF and I are wondering what our status would be in relation to Teysseroles. Although our house is within the parish of Teysseroles, we are actually in a different commune.
Several types of concession exist and cannot be changed once the contract is signed. For example, it might cover only a couple or the couple and any of their descendants for the duration of the concession. A concession lasts for a fixed length of time and is renewable: 30 years in the case of our commune. They are no longer granted in perpetuity.
If you seek for a monument
The holder of the concession has the right to build a vault or a monument and even to fence off their plot. If you want an inscription or epitaph in addition to names and dates you have to request authorisation from the mairie. In return, you have to maintain, decorate and visit the tomb regularly. If a tomb is abandoned for a certain length of time, the mairie has the right to take back the concession.
Here is the surprising bit: before 8th January 2007, you didn’t need a permis de construire (planning permission) for statues or monuments less than 12 metres high or of a volume less than 40 cubic metres. 12 metres! That’s almost twice as tall as our house, which has three storeys and a very tall pigeonnier. The law was changed in 2007 to remove the 12 metre height limit altogether, provided the cemetery is not a site classé. In practice, however, maires have the power to limit the height of monuments to that of the wall encircling the cemetery. Phew!
Nonetheless, when it comes to the style and design of monuments, people have free rein. Without wishing to cause offence, I have to say that some funerary monuments are complete monstrosities. When the architect from Bâtiments de France visited the Teysseroles site, he wasn’t exactly complimentary about the recent polished granite tombs. He felt they were not in keeping with the stone and architectural style of the district. But, of course, taste in these matters is a very personal thing, strongly influenced by national culture.
We have attended a number of funerals here. The local population is quite elderly so it’s only to be expected. Families expect that the neighbours will pay their last respects to the deceased, who is laid out in state in the house before the funeral. Everyone in the district attends the service, which is sometimes a very long funeral mass. Non-attendance is frowned upon, unless you are ill or otherwise engaged. A French friend is related to just about everyone in the area and seems to attend a funeral a week.
I remember cramming into the back of the unheated church at Félines for the funeral of our neighbour’s mother on what was probably the coldest day of the year. The whole thing lasted about 90 minutes, followed by the burial at the cemetery and the line-up where you have to queue to offer your condolences to the family. I wouldn’t be surprised if another few were carried off that day. At the other end of the scale, we attended several funerals during the blisteringly hot summer of 2003, when we had to stand outside in the blazing sun to listen to the funeral orations.
On another occasion, every member of the congregation had to go up and sprinkle the coffin with holy water in the sign of the cross: not something I have had to do before. But I take the line that, if in doubt, just do what the one in front of you does – and hope they know what they’re doing.
This might not seem a jolly subject but it’s all part of the fabric of life in rural France.
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