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Over the centuries, the cemeteries of Mulhouse have undergone numerous peregrinations, between the heart and the outskirts of the city. The exceptional heritage interest of this emblematic place is taken into account by the public authorities; The mission of the Mémoire Mulhousienne association is to preserve and bring to life this unique place where the history of the city and the region is woven.

by Marie Claire VITOUX

 FROM THE CEMETERY TO THE PARISH: the birth of Mulhouse Every human community has a myth of origins. Mulhouse is no exception to the rule with its legendary mill. From the 9th century, the progressive anchoring of groups of inhabitants around a church and a cemetery constitutes a major turning point in Europe. From this time, the presence of a burial area on the current Place de la Réunion in Mulhouse, attests to a permanent habitat. The excavations carried out in 1991 thus revealed the birth then the development of Mulhouse in a more certain way than the mythical mill. Around 940, a first cemetery chapel was built in the necropolis. It sanctifies the place of burials which accommodates a mixed population of men, women and children, a sign of a housing community.

14th - 15th CENTURIES: competition between the living and the dead The cemetery was the heart of the early core of the city. From the 14th century it became an obstacle to His development. The growing prosperity of Mulhouse, causing demographic growth and enrichment, involves a new reshuffling of the landscape of Place de la Réunion. The church was enlarged and embellished, probably between 1325 and 1350, with a choir with an apse. three cut sides. This architectural renovation accompanies the disuse of the eastern part of the cemetery and its contraction towards the northwest, which frees up the location of the future shopping hall. The large square in the city center, an ostentatious sign of the prosperity of the living, is thus created thanks to the retraction of the parish cemetery. To meet the burial needs of the population, three solutions emerge: A second resting place was opened in 1407 on what is now Place Lambert. It was completely decommissioned at the beginning of the 18th century and removed around 1769. This second cemetery had its own cemeterial chapel, Saint-Michel sur l’Ossuary Lay people are buried in the cemeteries of the three mendicant convents present in Mulhouse to which they make numerous donations, or in those of the two Teutonic commanderies and Saint-Jean From the second half of the 14th century, burials were authorized inside the church

THE TRANSLATION OF THE 16TH CENTURY The cemetery made sacred by the construction of the church was placed at the center of urban life. However, the coexistence of the living and the dead in the heart of the city had become problematic. with the commercial prosperity of the imperial city. From the 14th century, the secularization of the square to the south of the parish church began. At the turn of the 16th century, the wind of the Reformation began to blow over the city. The denunciation of a superstitious faith gradually wins minds. This is how, between 1523 and 1529, Mulhouse joined Protestantism. This new faith and the need for space for human activities combined to move the place of burial away from the parish church which had become a temple. The transfer of the cemetery near the deconsecrated Franciscan church - Barfüsserkirche - took place from 1554. From central, the cemetery became peripheral. At the same time, religious orders were chased out and their burial places closed. However, after the Reformation and until the 18th century, the temple continued to welcome burials: if the central nave no longer serves a funerary purpose, burials continue in the western tower and in the Gothic chapel. This one, which is no longer dedicated to the Virgin, hosts superimposed burials and the tombs of pastors. The transfer of 1554 marked the process of secularization of the surroundings of Saint-Etienne begun two centuries earlier. This is how the memory of the medieval cemetery was gradually erased. in the heart of the city of the living.

1803: THE TRAVEL OUTSIDE THE WALLS In 1746, the first printing factory on cotton fabrics launched the industrial revolution in Mulhouse. In one generation, around thirty factories were set up in the old town and attracted a mass of workers who crowded into the existing buildings. From the mid-1760s, the Council who administers the city deplores the worsening health situation. Throughout the Europe of the Enlightenment, the aerist theory - the ambient air is supposed to spread epidemics and infections - condemns the intramural location of places of decomposition of bodies. The decree of June 12, 1804 lays the foundations of new funeral practices, in ordering in particular the transfer of cemeteries outside the walls. Mulhouse anticipated the decree: in 1798, “a fairly large field located three hundred steps from the walls” is acquired beyond the Bollwerk Tower and its bastion. The cemetery was transferred there in 1803. In 1837, the Central School was built on the 35 acres of the former Franciscan cemetery. The new cemetery created ex-nihilo takes the shape of an almost perfect circle. It is bordered by poplars, this live hedge is supposed to prevent damage from wild animals. Open to the public outside of burial times, it is beginning to become a funeral garden where the burial space is distinct from the circulation spaces. The decree of 1804 also takes up the principle of family concessions in exchange for a donation to the poor or to the hospital. Wealthy families are gradually taking advantage of the possibility of individualizing tombs with monuments.

THE EXPANSIONS OF THE SALVATOR CEMETERY The transfer of the cemetery in 1803 was part of a “Great Fear” of the putrefaction of the bodies. Thus from 1825, the city also considered moving the slaughterhouse located since 1660 at the corner of rue des Tanneurs and rue des Bouchers. The new slaughterhouse and its livestock market opened in 1843 on the site of the current Lycée Montaigne, near the cemetery. Alongside a Protestant population which had become a minority, the Jewish presence asserted itself while the Catholic community exploded due to the massive arrival of workers, for the most part Catholics. In the middle of the 19th century, Catholics were in the majority. In 1826, the city purchased two hectares allowing the cemetery to be enlarged by a wide rectangular strip. In January 1831, a “Israelite square” was opened at its eastern end. Alas, the explosion demographic causes the accumulation of the deceased. Worse still, the obligation to reopen the numerous free temporary pits every five years in the Catholic part, reactivates health fears while offending the sensibilities of families. In 1853, all of the Catholic tombs were transferred beyond the Jewish cemetery. A double segregation organizes the cemetery. In addition to the confessional separation provided for by the decree of 1804, social segregation was implemented through the system of concessions: from 1827, wealthy families could acquire perpetual concessions which were separated from the other tombs by the aisles. Conversely, the poorest, mainly Catholic working families, only have free concessions which are therefore temporary and subject to increasing renewal. brought closer due to demographic pressure.

1869-1872: THE LAST REMOVAL At the end of the Second Empire, the evidence was obvious: the cemetery, even enlarged twice, is too small for a population which has increased tenfold in less than a century. Its appearance is sad and painful following the accumulation of tombs in a parsimonious space. In 1869 a special commission was created within the Municipal Council to study the question of the cemetery, considered too close to the heart of the city. The councilors regret the legal impossibility of developing the land located within the 100 meter perimeter around the cemetery. In addition, its right-of-way makes connections between the road from Basel to the south and Rue d’Illzach to the north. This is how the Municipal Council votes to transfer the cemetery to the north of the city, in the canton said de l’Urhau in May 1870. The new cemetery with an area of ​​12 hectares opened in the spring of 1872. Although Israeli religious law forbids any exhumation, wealthy families accept the transfer in Urhau, undoubtedly because of the good relations between the Israelites and the Protestant elites. These families acquired two hectares of land and took responsibility for the construction of the wall of fence and entrance gate. The Jewish community manages its cemetery itself. The transfer of perpetual concessions was completed in 1882. An English-style park, the first park public in Mulhouse (current Parc Salvator), is built on the site of the Protestant cemetery. The Sainte-Geneviève church is built on the old Catholic cemetery.

Marie-Claire VITOUX, historian