In The Company of Voltaire, Hugo and Dumas

July 8, 2010

Tomb of Louis Braille in the crypt of Paris' Pantheon, with wreathes and plaques in front.

The tomb at the top holds the remains of Louis Braille.

Yesterday in Paris, my wife and I visited the Pantheon and, quite unexpectedly, came across the tomb of Louis Braille, the inventor of the eponymous system used by blind and visually impaired people to read and write.

In the crypt of the Pantheon, carved into the wall beside each tomb is the name of the deceased person, and the years of his or her birth and death. Below Louis Braille’s name is, of course, his name engraved in Braille. And next to the crypt housing his tomb are a display of Braille’s achievements in both written English, Braille, and audiophone, and a bust of Braille’s head that people are allowed to touch.

Name of Louis Braille, engraved on the wall besides his tomb.  Below is his name in Braille.

The name of Louis Braille, engraved in English and also written in Braille.

Not too many people are buried in the Pantheon – interment must be approved by the French Parliament through an act for “national heroes.” Voltaire and Rousseau are buried there, along with Jean-Paul Marat, Nicolas de Condorcet, Pierre and Marie Curie, Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo. So for Louis Braille to be interred among these famous French figures is a major recognition of the work he did for himself and for others who are blind and visually impaired in France and around the world. (Although belatedly: he was interred in the Pantheon in 1952, on the 100th anniversary of his death.)

Display of Braille's life at his Pantheon tomb, including written and spoken English, Braille, and a bust of Braille's head.

The biography of Louis Braille, accessible in different ways to both the blind/visually impaired, and those with sight.

With the exception of Voltaire and Rousseau, who have their own spaces and free-standing statues at the entrance to the crypt, every person interred there is given no extra mention besides the name engraved on the wall and on the tomb, and a brief biography mounted on a nearby poster. That in Braille’s case, extra room was made for an accessible display, a bust of Braille’s head, and an inscription in Braille below his engraved name is indeed a real benefit for visitors –- blind or not – who want to learn a little bit about Braille and his life.


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