Last Updated on 16th April 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
One of the most famous, and undoubtedly one of the most tragic, love stories from the Middle Ages is that of Abelard & Heloïse. A tale of forbidden love, the couple is now alleged to be resting in Père Lachaise Cemetery, the largest and oldest graveyard in the City of Light.
The grave is not far from the entrance to the historic graveyard and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful tombs of all, with effigies of both lovers sleeping side by side atop a table tomb and encased in a Gothic open-sided house.
If you don’t feel like visiting the love lock bridge, then why not head to Heloise and Abelard’s graves? Today, the grave is a must visit for any young couple in Paris… Ahead lies a classic tale of forbidden love, medieval Paris, and more mystery than your brain can handle!
Pere Lachaise sits in the North East of Paris. With tree-lined boulevards and even signage, Pere Lachaise Cemetery is in a world of its own. A world inhabited by the dead. Reputedly over a million of them… Although Pere Lachaise cemetery observes the seasons just like the rest of Paris, it’s eerily silent.
As well as being the final resting place of the likes of Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf, it also happens to be the final resting place of Heloise and Abelard. The tale of Heloise and Abelard is a classic one, filled with forbidden love, a teacher/pupil relationship gone awry. It also happens to be one of the most well known and greatest love stories to survive from the middle ages.
Below: an etching of Heloise and Abelard’s final resting place; the Abelard and Heloise Tomb
Who were Heloise and Abelard?
Abelard and Heloise lived sometime between the 11th and 12 centuries. No one is exactly sure of their birth dates and their lives have become romanticised with time, more mythical, less factual. Heloise was a French nun who went on to become an abbess (head of a convent).
A couple who lived during the Middle Ages, Heloïse was the niece of a Canon of the Cathedral while Abelard was her tutor and many years her senior (around 20 years, to be precise). After Heloïse proved to be exceptionally bright and in need of further tutoring, Abelard, a famed philosopher, was appointed to be her teacher. In spite an age gap of two decades, the duo soon fell in love, and soon enough afterwards, Heloise fell pregnant.
Her Uncle, Fulbert, also happened to be a canon and Heloise was raised safely within the confines of Notre Dame Cathedral. As a young wealthy woman was expected to be fully educated in the Classics (i.e. Latin and Greek), only the best tutor was hired for her.
The tutor hired happened to be the best-known theologian of his day, Abelard. Upon meeting, Abelard was amazed by the young woman’s natural aptitude for learning and her fascination for the classics. With time, this fast friendship swiftly turned to love and by 1115 or 1116, Abelard began an affair with Heloise.
With little knowledge of contraception, the secret affair produced an illegitimate child and in turn, a secret marriage. The couple escaped to Brittany (Abelard’s home region), and in an attempt to appease Heloïse’s uncle, they wed in secret.
When Heloise’s uncle found out about the affair, he was furious. He had Abelard castrated and Heloise was tragically locked away in a convent. Abelard and Heloïse were forcibly separated. The couple never saw each other again. Fulbert sent his men into Abelard’s room in the middle of the night and castrated him, while Heloïse was sent to a convent, where she spent the rest of her life.
The two lovers kept in correspondence via letters and over time, these have become almost as famous as the affair itself. Today, there is much debate as to the true story behind these two very real people from history.
Although Abelard and Heloise never saw each other again, they corresponded through letters several times over the years. As per urban myth, it’s alleged that the couple lived together in the place where a plaque can now be seen on Île de la Cité and their final resting place can be found in the Père-Lachaise cemetery.
Below: a colour print of Abelard and Heloise’s Tomb from 1831.
How did Heloise and Abelard end up in Pere Lachaise Cemetery?
Well, the thing is, no one is actually sure if Heloise and Abelard actually lie in Pere Lachaise! The two lovers tragic tale has enthralled and enraptured the hearts of romantics for centuries. Alexander Pope wrote his poem ‘Eloisa to Abelard‘ in 1717 based on the doomed medieval romance.
The remains of both lovers have been moved more than once over time. Although Abelard was first laid to rest in St Marcel, they were later moved and entrusted to the care of Heloise. When Heloise passed away, she was buried next to her beloved Abelard.
Over time, the couple’s remains were moved time and time again. So much so, that there’s now a dispute as to where the bodies actually lie. While the Oratory of the Paraclete insist that the lover’s bodies lie underneath their tomb in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the caretakers of Pere Lachaise claim that the bones were moved to the crypt.
Others maintain that while Abelard’s remains lie in Pere Lachaise, Heloise’s have been lost. Whatever the case, at least in theory the two fated lovers will lay side by side for all eternity and their forbidden love will continue to touch lives for centuries to come.
For those who are searching for more Heloise and Abelard locations in Paris, it’s worth visiting the site of the former monastery in Paris along Rue Chanoinesse.
Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A Francophile at heart, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She splits her time between Paris and London and travels as much as she can! Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.