The Cemetery of Père-Lachaise is the largest cemetery in Paris. Many famous people are buried there and Jim Morrison, Molière, Frederic Chopin, Théodore Géricault are just a few names. The grave of Oscar Wilde is very popular and his female fans have smothered the tomb with kisses leaving red lipstick marks all over. Many female visitors, after assaulting the grave of the famous Irish writer, move over to the adjacent plot for their next target, the tomb that probably gained worldwide fame for the most unusual reasons. The one of an ordinary young man, a certain Victor Noir.
Victor Noir (1848-1870) was working as an apprentice journalist for the newspaper “La Marseillaise” in 19th century Paris. He was an ordinary young man, an unimpressive fellow, who just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. In fact, in that period, the editor of the newspaper, Paschal Grousset, was challenged to a duel by Prince Pierre Bonaparte, cousin of the then-ruling Emperor Napoleon III. The reason? The publication of a controversial article about the prince’s great-uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte himself. Grousset accepted the duel and sent his seconds (one of whom was Victor Noir) to arrange the time and place of the confrontation. Unfortunately, an altercation broke out during the conversation, Bonaparte pulled out his pistol and shot Victor to death.
The murder of a journalist by a member of the emperor’s family infuriated the public, that was already dissatisfied with the political situation in the country, and Victor Noir became a revolutionary symbol. Over 100.000 people attended his funeral at the local cemetery in his hometown Neuilly and, to add salt to injury, Pierre Bonaparte was acquitted of the murder charge, leading to a number of violent demonstrations across the city and not only.
Despite not related to these events, the Prussians invaded France later that year, overthrowing the French Empire on 4 September, 1870.
Against expectations, it wasn`t his death or the political consequences of the shooting that made Victor Noir famous, but his grave. His martyrdom was conveniently forgotten and the young journalist remained peacefully in his hometown Neuilly for the next twenty years, until his name began to make rounds again.
In 1891, following the establishment of the Third French Republic, the journalist’s body was moved from his hometown to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris to honor his name and memory. A renowned French sculptor, Jules Dalou, was given the job of creating the sculpture in bronze for his grave.
Using sketches made by the press for reference, the artist chose to depict Victor Noir at the moment of his unnatural death, lying flat on the ground after he was shot, similar to as he would have laid dead in the street in his finest suit with his hat fallen beside him. Dalou opted for a strikingly realistic portrayal. From the individual hairs on his head to the creases in his shoes, no detail was spared, with one standing out above the rest…for unknown reasons, he decided to give the sculpture a prominent bulge in his trousers. This triggered the formation of a really bizarre myth that over time made Victor Noir`s tomb a symbol of fertility and sexual happiness.
Still today, It is believed that if a woman kisses the statue of Victor Noir on the lips, rubs the bulge in his trousers and drops a flower in his hat it will bring her enhanced fertility, and a blissful sex life.
More specifically, if you want to find a beautiful lover, you should kiss Noir`s lips, if you want to get pregnant, you should touch his right foot and if you want to have twins, you should touch his left foot. According to the myth, a baby will follow soon after and single ladies will find a husband within the year.
Interestingly, the statue is a living proof that people take this myth very seriously. Victor Noir’s lips, groin and shoes are shiny, while the rest of his body has the usual greenish tone of oxidized bronze.
That is why in 2004 a fence was placed around the statue of Noir with a warning sign: “Any damage caused by graffiti or indecent rubbing will be prosecuted.” However this fact agitated so many women that the fence was soon torn down.
Today, women who have fallen pregnant after visiting Victor Noir`s grave return to the cemetery in gratitude and put photos of their children and other objects in the hat near the statue….