The Mystery of… The Secret Secretary

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There are only two churches in Paris that have adjoining graveyards and in one of them, there’s something that’s not quite right.

In the 20th arrondissement sits a small but pretty Catholic church, l’Eglise Saint-Germain de Charonne. Built in the 17th Century it became a listed historic monument on 23 May 1923.

On the far left-hand-side of its graveyard, the Cimetiere de Charonne, there stands a tomb with a statue above it. The statue depicts an old French gentleman who proudly watches the visitors below, his face sheltered from the sun by a large floppy hat.photo 2

The inscription states that this is Francois-Eloy Begue and Monsieur Begue was important indeed. The stone tells us that he was a painter, a patriot, a poet, a philosopher and secretary to the revolutionary leader, Robespierre.

The stone is lying. By all accounts, Monsieur Begue (otherwise known as Old Malgloire) was a drunken house painter and local legend has it that he was even buried with a bottle of wine. The statue was pinched from a scrap metal junkyard and attached to the grave by Old Malgloire’s friend, Mr Herbeaumont.

The true identity of the gentleman in the hat remains a mystery but one thing’s for sure – he wasn’t Robespierre’s secretary.

Unfortunately the church and the graveyard have been closed for a few years for renovation works due to safety concerns. Old Malgloire is overseeing the works.

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