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“Oscar Wilde’s grave vies with that of Jim Morrison as the biggest tourist attraction in this graveyard of the great and good (Balzac, Chopin, Delacroix, Ingres, Molière, Piaf, and the lovers Abélard and Héloïse among others). It is regularly covered in red lipstick kisses and is both a lovers’ rendezvous and a rallying point against homophobia. The memorial – a naked birdman made by the sculptor, Jacob Epstein – has proved controversial. Unveiled in 1914, it had to be covered up because of complaints about the figure’s exposed genitals. A fig leaf was added but in the 1920s a group of anti-censorship protestors tried to chisel it off and ended up inadvertently carrying out a castration. The detached lump of stone was said to have ended up as a paperweight on the cemetery superintendent’s desk.”

How to Read a Graveyard: Journeys in the Company of the Dead by Peter Stanford — author of Heaven: A Traveller’s Guide — is published by Bloomsbury on 28 March at £16.99

Find Peter Stanford’s ten best here


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