Monday, 11 November 2013

Cimetière Marin, St Paul

The Cimetière Marin ("Marine Cemetery") is a historic cemetery on the southern outskirts of the town of St Paul, Reunion.

Entrance to the Marine Cemetery

The cemetery has been in use since 1788, although by the mid-1800s it was already full and another cemetery had to be opened to the north of the town.

old ship's anchor outside the cemetery

Over the years it has seen its share of natural disasters: a tidal wave in August 1883 following the eruption of Krakatoa, and cyclones in 1932, 1948 and 1962. It was renovated during the 1970s.

one of the cannons "guarding" the cemetery entrance

The name refers to its location next to the sea and not to the fact that it is full of sailors (marins in French), although there are quite a few sailors buried here.

general view of the cemetery, looking north-west

General view of the cemetery, looking north

The Ker-Anna was a French three-mast sailing ship which was shipwrecked off the coast of Reunion on 9th December 1894. Eight of the 14 people on board perished, and they are buried in the cemetery.

grave of the Ker-Anna sailors

Probably the cemetery's most famous grave is that of pirate Olivier "La Buse" Levasseur (1688 or 1690-1730), the scourge of the Indian Ocean during the 1720s. Together with John Taylor he perpetrated one of piracy's greatest exploits: the capture of the Portuguese great galleon Nossa Senhora do Cabo ('Our Lady of the Cape') (also known as Virgem Do Cabo ('The Virgin of the Cape')), loaded full of treasures belonging to the Bishop of Goa, (also called the Patriarch of the East Indies), and the Viceroy of Portugal, who were both on board returning home to Lisbon. After being damaged in a storm the ship had anchored off Réunion to undergo repairs. (This incident was later be used by Robert Louis Stevenson in his novel "Treasure Island" where the galleon is referred to as The Viceroy of the Indies in the account given by Long John Silver). La Buse was hanged for piracy in Reunion on 7th July 1730. Legend says that when he stood on the scaffold he had a necklace around his neck containing a cryptogram of 17 lines which he threw in the crowd while exclaiming: "Find my treasure, the one who may understand it!" What became of this necklace is unknown and the hunt for his fabulous treasure continues to motivate treasure hunters to this day.

Olivier "the Buzzard's" Levasseur grave

Another important grave is that of French poet Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle (1818 – 1894). Born in Reunion he is mainly known, as a writer, by his family name Leconte de Lisle. He took a lead role in the Parnassian movement and also translated works from Ancient Greek. In 1886 he was elected to the Académie française in succession to Victor Hugo. In 1977 his remains were transferred from the Montparnasse cemetery in mainland France to St Paul.

grave of Leconte de Lisle

central alley of the cemetery

The grave of Madame Ombeline Desbassyns can also be found here, transferred from the Chapelle Pointue.

Jubilee cross 
general view, looking inland

"If one day I die
bury me under the Latan Palm.
Its roots will invigorate me
and its fragrance will revive me"

Just outside the cemetery is a tiny public square with the bust of Bishop Alexandre Monnet (1812-1849) "Father of the Blacks". It mentions that he was expelled from the island in 1847 (for his abolitionist views), ironically just one year before slavery was abolished on Reunion.

In 2007 during cyclone Gamede some 18th-century bones were uncovered just outside the cemetery on the black sand beach; they seem to have been part of a former burial area. They were later reburied during an ecumenical ceremony and a monument was erected.

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