Updated: Dec 15, 2021
One of those places that most tourists don’t save time to visit is the imposing Pantheon. But if you're in Paris for a second or third time, we think you should dedicate some time to explore.
It was originally built as the Church of Saint Geneviève, the patroness saint of Paris at the time of King Louis XV (18th century). After several modifications of its purpose, it now houses the remains of the most honored French citizens, but no relics of saints nor any French kings or queens. And that contrast is an excellent introduction to the revolutionary changes that make up French history. But still... If you look only at the walls and the architecture, it seems to be a Catholic church dedicated to Saint Geneviève.
Recently, there have been long lines of visitors waiting to get in. Why?
This past November 30, the diva Josephine Baker was honored as one of the « Greats of France ».
President Emmanuel Macron led a solemn ceremony for her entry into the Pantheon.
But why was a foreign lady buried among the greatest "men of France"?
Here we quickly share her exciting story and the reason she has deserved this great honor that will immortalize her name for generations of French citizens:
Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906, Josephine Baker moved to France in the 20’s where she became a star performer in French night clubs and the first black woman to star in a major motion picture in 1927! She began her cabaret career in the Folies Bergère where in the review, Un Vent de Folie, (A Crazy Wind), she wore a costume of a skirt of artificial bananas and a necklace. She was the most famous American entertainer in France and was friendly with Hemingway, Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso who made drawings of her.
On November 30th 1937 she married Jean Lion, a French man. Thanks to this union she immediately received French citizenship.
During WWII, she was an active member of the French Resistance and used her celebrity status to gather intelligence from enemy diplomats and military brass in Paris. She passed messages written in invisible ink on her sheet music and carried other secret messages in her underwear because she believed that with her fame, no one would strip search "Josephine Baker". She was decorated with the Resistance Medal, the Croix de Guerre, and in 1961 with the Légion d’Honneur.
When France decided it wanted to follow tradition and move her remains to a crypt in the Pantheon, it needed the family’s permission. She was buried in Monaco and her family wanted her remains to stay there. In her case, the crypt contains soil from the places where she lived in France and the United States: St Louis, Paris, Dordogne, and Monaco. She is the sixth woman to be honored by entry into the Pantheon and was preceded by Marie Curie, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Germiane Tillion, Sophie Berthelot, and Simone Veil.
This year, exactly 84 years, after the day Josephine became French, she received the recognition that shows that this beautiful country is proud to honor the brave and generous people that make France greater every day and have made it their home.
Bravo Josephine and to all those foreigners that have France in their heart! ♥️ StrollsParis tips:
1) If you pay visit to Josephine and the other "greats" assure your ticket by getting it HERE.
2) Being at the top of the Latin Quarter don't miss the chance to visit the church of Saint Etienne du Mont, the only church that still has a Rood screen in Paris! Beautiful! 3) Want to explore the area before or after your visit? Hire our Latin Quarter stroll HERE