Eternal Hearts—History of Heart Burial in Europe

12. Hearts of religious leaders

Heart monument of Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn
                  in the Neubaukirche in Würzburg (Armin Dietz)From the beginning the custom of dividing the body into three parts and burying them separately was also practised by the high clergy and saints (see above). From the 13th century the bishops of Würzburg had their hearts brought to the monastery in Ebrach, their entrails to the chapel of the castle of Marienburg and their bodies to the cathedral of Würzburg. About 30 hearts of bishops, some of which had been desecrated during the Peasant Wars, are said to have found their final resting place at Ebrach, until the prince-bishop Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn, the founder of the University of Würzburg, broke with this tradition and had his heart buried in the Neubaukirche, which he himself had had built.

< Heart monument of Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn in the Neubaukirche in Würzburg (Armin Dietz)

After the church had been destroyed in World War II, it had to be temporarily transferred. However, to mark the 400-year anniversary of the university in 1992, the heart of its founder was brought back to the rebuilt renaissance church (which in the meantime had been secularized and turned into the great hall of the university) in a heart monument weighing two tons.

In Germany, Austria and Switzerland it was prelates, bishops and other dignitaries, mainly from Fulda, Mainz, Bamberg, Passau, Regensburg, Bruchsal, Speyer, Worms, Constance, Cologne, Trier, Magdeburg, Eichstätt, Solothurn, Basel, Salzburg and other diocesan cities of the early Danube monarchy who followed the example of Würzburg, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. A great number of similar burials are reported from France and England; in Italy and Spain however they were considerably more seldom.

13. The "Precordii" of the Popes

Since opinions about the transience of the body and the whereabouts of the soul in it differed between countries of south and mid-Europe, heart burials were quite rare in the countries bordering the Mediterranean.

Enterotaph or plaque with names of the popes
                  whose "precordii" were buried in San
                  Vinzenzo e Anastasio in Rome (San Vincenzo e
                  Anastasio, Rome, Italy)< "Enterotaph" or plaque with names of the popes whose "precordii" were buried in San Vinzenzo e Anastasio in Rome (San Vincenzo e Anastasio, Rome, Italy)

It is widely unknown that the organs of the chest—and therefore the heart as well—of almost all the popes since Sixtus V (†1590) were put in a sealed crypt, marked by a plaque, in the church San Vincenzo e Anastasio in Rome. The last was pope Pius X (†1914). Only a few decided otherwise, such as Pius II (†1464), whose precordii were brought to the cathedral of Ancona, or Innocence XI (†1689), XII (†1700) and XIII (†1724), whose hearts were brought to the chapel of the Odescalchi palace in Rome, to the cathedral of Naples and to the chapel of the Madonna on the Monte Gudagnolo near Rome.

The entrails of Benedict XIII (†1730) were buried together with those of the Swedish Queen Christina, the daughter of Gustav Adolf (†1689) in the chapel of St. Maria de Pregnantibus (which is not open to the public) in the church of St. Peter in Rome, whilst heart and entrails of Pius VI came to the cathedral of Valence, where he had died as a prisoner of Napoleon in 1799.

 

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