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Renovated Wilde Tomb Unveiled
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/02/11
Last updated on: 12/04/11
 
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Oscar Wilde.
On November 30, 2011, the 111th anniversary of the death of Oscar Wilde, his newly renovated tomb in Paris's Père Lachaise cemetery was unveiled. The brief ceremony was attended by actor Rupert Everett and Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland.

After Wilde died penniless and scorned on November 30, 1900, he was buried in the Cimetière de Bagneux outside Paris. In 1909, his remains were moved to the more prestigious Père Lachaise Cemetery inside the city.

Wilde's tomb in Père Lachaise was commissioned by his faithful friend Robert Ross and designed by Sir Jacob Epstein. It was completed in 1914. Ross asked Epstein to include a small compartment in the tomb for his own ashes, which were duly transferred in 1950.

Epstein's design features a modernist angel as a relief on the tomb. Originally, the angel was depicted with male genitalia, but they were vandalized. In 2000, artist Leon Johnson installed a silver prosthesis to replace them.

The tomb also includes as an epitaph a verse from Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol": "And alien tears will fill for him / Pity's long-broken urn, / For his mourners will be outcast men, / And outcasts always mourn."

Wilde's tomb quickly became a site of pilgrimage for Wilde's admirers, especially those who identified with his status as gay martyr. It is the most-visited grave in Paris's most famous cemetery.

The tomb is designated by France as a historic monument, but decades of graffiti and lipstick kisses had degraded the stone and left it close to being irreparably damaged.


Oscar Wilde's tomb before renovation. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons contributor Phaeton1 (cc by-sa 3.0).

The renovation, which was funded by the Irish State, included a thorough cleaning of the tombstone, and the installation of a discreet glass screen to separate visitors from the stone itself to prevent further damage.

The unveiling ceremony was presided over by Dinny McGinley, Irish Minister of State for the Arts, who led tributes to "a very great Irishman" and "one of the world's most celebrated writers."

McGinley also paid homage to Paris: "This magnificent city welcomed and sheltered the Irish through the centuries, but especially our writers and artists. We in Ireland do not forget these things. As many of you know, we have long memories."

At the unveiling, Everett, who has appeared in stage and film productions of Wilde's plays and is currently writing about Wilde's later years, spoke of Wilde's "force" and the "amazing trajectory of his life."

He declared, "Oscar is my patron saint and someone who has been with me all my life. For me, he has the perfect blend of brilliance and silliness, pride and humility . . . From the dress circle to the drains, his life was his greatest work of art and an inspiration to anyone who has ever felt outcast."

Holland said that his grandfather "would be incredibly touched by all the attention. After all he was sent out of England in 1897 a bankrupt, a homosexual, and a convict . . . and the French took him to their hearts."

Here is a link to a brief clip of Everett's remarks at the unveiling: Video: Oscar Wilde's tomb gets a makeover.

 
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