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Modern marker for the site of the burial of the heart of Robert the Bruce at Melrose Abbey
Burial site of Thomas Hardy's heart

Heart-burial is a type of burial in which the heart is interred apart from the body. This is a very ancient practice, and the special reverence shown towards the heart is doubtless due to its early association with the soul, affections, courage and conscience of man.

In medieval Europe heart-burial was fairly common. Some of the more notable cases of this include:

A more modern example is that of Thomas Hardy whose ashes were interred in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey whilst his heart was buried in his beloved Wessex alongside his first wife. A recent biography of Hardy details the arguments over the decision, and addresses the long-standing rumour that the heart was stolen by a pet cat so that a pig's heart had to be used as a replacement.[1]

Another is John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, scholar, art patron and Catholic convert, whose heart was buried in 1900 on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Another famous heart-burial figure is music composer Frédéric Chopin. Before the funeral, pursuant to his dying wish, his heart was removed. It was preserved in alcohol (perhaps brandy) to be returned to his homeland, as he had requested. His sister smuggled it in an urn to Warsaw, where it was later sealed within a pillar of the Holy Cross Church on Krakowskie Przedmieście, beneath an epitaph sculpted by Leonard Marconi, bearing an inscription from Matthew VI:21: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Chopin's heart has reposed there – except for a period during World War II, when it was removed for safekeeping – within the church that was rebuilt after its virtual destruction during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. The church stands only a short distance from Chopin's last Polish residence, the Krasiński Palace at Krakowskie Przedmieście.

The most recent notable case of heart burial was of Otto von Habsburg, former head of the House of Habsburg, whose heart was buried at the Pannonhalma Archabbey in Hungary in 2011.

Cultural references[edit]

In the 1994 movie Legends of the Fall, the character Samuel (Henry Thomas) is killed while serving in the Canadian army in World War I. His brother (Brad Pitt) cuts the heart out of the body and sends it home to be buried on his father's ranch in Montana.[2]


  1. ^ http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2101-2378266.html[dead link]
  2. ^ "Legends of the fall Script". Script-o-rama.com. Retrieved 2011-12-10.

External links[edit]