Eternal Hearts—History of Heart Burial in Europe

7. Typology of heart graves, shape of urns, exhumation of heart graves

In the beginnings of heart burial, the organ was wrapped in textiles or animal hide and buried in simple metal vessels in the floor of a church, usually without a nameplate.

Golden heart vessel of Anna of Brittany (Musée
                  départemental Dobrée)

< Golden heart vessel of Anna of Brittany (Musée départemental Dobrée)

During the Middle Ages it was customary to put up a cardiotaph over the buried heart, analogous to an epitaph. Some of them carried an almost lyrical tribute made by a cardiotaphist to the life and achievements of its bearer, partly with exact specifications as to name, title, dates of birth and death. A nice example is the plaque over the grave of the commander Tilly in the Chapel of the Miraculous Image in Altötting, Bavaria:

Cardiotaph of the illustrious Count Tilly

His life was continuous military service, now it triumphs in death and his heart is there, where his treasure was. A friend of humility and chastity, he never tired of worshipping the humble maid and mother of the Lord. As a warrior he fought God's fight. He kept the faith and completed the course. For this the Lord, the righteous judge, has given him the crown of justice; on the last day of April in the year of our Lord 1632.

Rather more seldom the deceased was portrayed in full, lying down or standing against the wall, such as Richard the Lionheart in Rouen, Charles von Anjou in St. Denis or the prince-bishops of Würzburg in Ebrach.

Bronze cardiotaph of Commander Tilly
                        (Hildegard Pollety, Altötting, Germany) Silver cup with the heart of the Empress
                        Maria Theresia (Armin Dietz)

^ Bronze cardiotaph of Commander Tilly
(Hildegard Pollety, Altötting, Germany)

 

^ Silver cup with the heart of the Empress
Maria Theresia (Armin Dietz)
Golden heart vessel of the prince-bishop
                        von Pötting (Germanisches Nationalmuseum
                        Nürnberg) Gisant of Richard the Lionheart (Paroisse
                        de la Cathedrale, Rouen/France)
^ Golden heart vessel of the prince-bishop von Pötting
(Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg)
^ Gîsant of Richard the Lionheart
(Paroisse de la Cathedrale, Rouen/France)

The creative variety of the heart containers, some of which were put into the floor or church wall, and from the age of Baroque often placed on display, varied from a simple cup to a heart-formed metal container, to goblet-shaped vessels, and even to monuments. Usually the urns were accommodated a considerable distance from the grave; however, sometimes they were placed next to or even inside the coffin, the reason for which is difficult to understand.

A peculiarity is the "double heart urn" of the emperor Charles VII and his wife in Altötting with the hearts of the couple in a magnificent receptacle. Hearts were often brought to those of their relatives, especially parents and spouses, or at least to their coffins. Curiosity or the necessity for reburial has occasionally led to the contents of heart urns coming to light. Usually only amorphous remnants were found, for example scraps of material in which the organ was wrapped.

The heart of the Prussian Chancellor of State and reformer von Hardenberg in Neuhardenberg has been kept fully intact in a display glass, having been posthumously expertly conserved.

Heart monument of Henry II of France by
                        Pilon (Musée du Louvre, Paris) Magnificent double heart urn as part of a
                        monument for the united hearts of the Emperor
                        Karl VII and his wife Maria Amalie in the Chapel
                        of the Miraculous Image in Altötting, Bavaria
                        (Pollety Hildegard, Altötting, Germany)

^ Heart monument of Henry II of France by
Pilon (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

 

^ Magnificent double heart urn as part of a monument
for the united hearts of the Emperor Karl VII and his
wife Maria Amalie in the Chapel of the Miraculous Image
in Altötting, Bavaria (Pollety Hildegard, Altötting, Germany)
The preserved heart of the Prussian
                        statesman Prince von Hardenberg, church built by
                        Schinkel in Neuhardenberg (Armin Dietz) Image of the Mother of God with the heart
                        grave and tin heart vessel full of holes of the
                        abbot Emanuel II in the pilgrimage church
                        Marienberg near Burghausen (Armin Dietz)
^ The preserved heart of the Prussian
statesman Prince von Hardenberg, church
built by Schinkel in Neuhardenberg
(Armin Dietz)
^ Image of the Mother of God with the heart grave
and tin heart vessel full of holes of the abbot
Emanuel II in the pilgrimage church Marienberg
near Burghausen (Armin Dietz)

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