Ophélie Artaud, with AFP / Photo credit: Amaury Cornu / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP 5:05 p.m., February 19, 2024

On Wednesday, resistance fighter Missak Manouchian will enter the Pantheon, 80 years to the day after his execution. His wife Mélinée will rest at his side. But how does pantheonization work, and what are the criteria for entering this secular temple in homage to the great men and women of the nation?

This Wednesday, the resistance fighter of Armenian origin Missak Manouchian and 23 of his comrades in arms will enter the Pantheon, 80 years to the day after their execution. Mélinée Manouchian will rest alongside her husband in this temple where the great men and great women of the nation rest. A way of paying tribute to all the “communist and foreign resistance”, underlined the Élysée. But what are the criteria for pantheonization? Europe 1 takes stock.

What is the Pantheon?

The Pantheon is the secular necropolis of the “Great Men”, whose “homeland is grateful” and wants to honor the memory. The monument dominates the Sainte-Geneviève mountain, one of the mounds of Paris. Initially, it was an abbey in which the relics of Sainte-Geneviève were kept. At the request of Louis men of the era of French freedom".

This is evidenced by the motto re-inscribed on the pediment, and still visible today: “To the great men the grateful homeland”. During the 19th century, the monument changed its function several times, alternating between periods when it was dedicated to worship and secular periods. The Pantheon definitively resumed its function as a secular temple in 1885, during the national funeral of Victor Hugo.


- Who was Missak Manouchian, symbol of the Resistance who will enter the Pantheon?

Who is buried in the Pantheon?

The great politicians, writers, scientists, resistance fighters... rest in the crypt of the monument. Voltaire (in 1791), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (in 1794) were among the first to enter. Jean Jaurès, Emile Zola, Marie and Pierre Curry, Jean Moulin... were transferred there over the decades. Over the last ten years, the resistance fighters Pierre Brossolette, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Germaine Tillion (in 2015), the politician Simone Veil and her husband Antoine Veil (2018), the writer Maurice Genevoix, and the Franco-American star of music hall Josephine Baker (2021) entered the Pantheon. In all, 81 personalities rest there, including six women.

But other great men and women appear on the walls of the Pantheon, without their bodies or ashes being transferred to the monument. More than 1,000 names of combatant writers, but also commemorative plaques or inscriptions are present on the walls of the temple. This is the case for the writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, or even for the poet Aimé Césaire.

Who decides on pantheonization?

This has evolved over the centuries. At the beginning, in 1791, it was the Constituent Assembly which decided, then the Convention took over in 1794. Under the First Empire, Napoleon Bonaparte was the only one to grant entry to the Pantheon. From the Third Republic, this decision falls to the deputies.


The pantheonization of the Manouchian spouses

Since 1958 and the beginning of the Fifth Republic, only the President of the Republic can decide on the transfer of remains to the Pantheon. This is made official by decree published in the Official Journal.

What are the criteria ?

Only one criterion is included by decree dating from May 27, 1885: “The remains of the great men who have deserved well for the country will be deposited there”. “Merit” is therefore the only criterion retained. But as

La Croix


, “popular approval proves to be an unofficial condition”. Moreover, in the case of Missak Manouchian, several petitions had been launched in recent years to encourage the President to pantheonize the resistance fighter.

Can we refuse pantheonization?

Yes. For example, in 2009, when the then President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to see Albert Camus enter the Pantheon, the writer's son refused this proposal, fearing political exploitation. Others, like General De Gaulle, even refused possible pantheonization during their lifetime.

Have any personalities already come out?

This has happened before, for example after a political change of heart. The revolutionary Mirabeau, for example, was the first to enter the Pantheon, in 1791. But three years later, he was also the first to be excluded, after revelations about his links with Louis XVI. In 1794, Mirabeau was replaced by another revolutionary, Jean-Paul Marat. The latter remained there even less long, since he was also excluded a few months later, in 1795.


 Tribute to Badinter: was it too early to grant him the Pantheon?

Why is Missak Manouchian joining the Pantheon?

Missak Manouchian, stateless, refugee in France in 1925, joined the communist resistance in 1943, where he distinguished himself in the ranks of the Francs-tireurs partisans - Main d'œuvre immigrée (FTP-MOI), a network then very active in Paris. Arrested and tortured, he was then handed over to the Germans. During his trial, Nazi propaganda put up a poster in the capital with photos of ten members of the Manouchian group, on a red background, denouncing "the army of crime against France". On February 21, 1944, he was shot at Mont-Valérien, with other members of his group.

The 23 companions of Missak Manouchian will not be buried in the Pantheon, but their names will be inscribed within the monument. “It will be entry into the Pantheon of communist and foreign resistance,” writes the Élysée. Because if eight great resistance fighters have already been honored since the transfer of Jean Moulin's ashes in 1964, none was a communist. 

“This demonstrates that being French is above all a matter of will and heart”, not “origin, religion or first name”, and that “it brings a lot to the country”, adds the presidency.

His wife Mélinée Manouchian buried in the Pantheon, a frequent practice?

Mélinée Manouchian, also a resistance fighter, will rest alongside her husband, even if she will not be pantheonized. A way of uniting them in death, while they both rested in the Parisian cemetery of Ivry.

If this remains an exception, it is not the first time that a husband or wife has entered alongside a pantheonized personality. This had already happened in 2018, with Simone Veil, whose husband, Antoine, had also been transferred to the temple, at the request of the family. It is the same for Sophie Berthelot, who joined her pantheonized husband Marcellin Berthelot, also to respect the wishes of the family.