Residence of Voltaire France

The funeral procession of Voltaire crossing the Seine Voltaire's Funeral Procession

Voltaire died in Paris on May 30, 1778. His friends feared that he would not be allowed a proper burial and they secretly took his body to the Abbey of Scellières, a hundred miles from Paris. There he was given an honorable Christian burial with full rights.

In Paris, all newspapers were forbidden to print obituaries, and the Academy was not allowed to hold its customary service upon the death of a member.

On July 10, 1791 (thirteen years after his death and two years after the French Revolution) Voltaire's remains were transferred to the Panthéon, a church that was newly dedicated as a perpetual shrine to the great men of the nation. The night before the funeral procession the coffin was placed at the ruins of the Bastille, the prison that had held Voltaire and other enemies of the old order. The procession to the Panthéon the next day was one of the major celebrations in honor of the Revolution.

The funeral procession was led by a calvary troop, followed by delegations from schools, clubs, fraternal societies, and groups of actors from the theaters. Then came workers involved in the demolition of the Bastille who carried balls and chains that were found in the prison. Four men dressed in classic theater costumes carried a golden statue of Voltaire. Actors carried banners inscribed with the names of Voltaire's major works. Next came a golden casket containing the recently published complete works of Voltaire in 92 volumes.

A full orchestra preceded the sarcophagus that was on wheels and drawn by twelve white horses. The casket was decorated with theater masks and the statement: "Poet, philosopher, historian, he made a great step forward in the human spirit. He prepared us to become free."

Members of the National Assembly, the judiciary and the municipality of Paris followed the sarcophagus. The procession stopped at the Opéra, the old Comédie and the new Comédie theaters, and near midnight reached the Panthéon where Voltaire was placed to rest.

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