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Modern marker for the site of the burial of the heart of Robert the Bruce at Melrose Abbey

Heart-burial is a type of burial in which the heart is interred apart from the body. In medieval Europe heart-burial was fairly common among the higher echelons of society, as was the parallel practice of the separate burial of entrails or wider viscera: examples can be traced back to the beginning of the twelfth century.[1] Evisceration was carried out as part of normal embalming practices, and, where a person had died too far from home to make full body transport practical without infection, it was often more convenient for the heart or entrails to be carried home as token representations of the deceased.[2] The motivation subsequently became the opportunity to bury and memorialise an individual in more than one location.


Notable medieval examples include:


Burial site of Thomas Hardy's heart

More modern examples include:

  • Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen Died on 24 June 1798 aged 56. She was buried in the Tuscan Vault of the Imperial Crypt in Vienna. Her heart was buried separately and is located in the Herzgruft, behind the Loreto Chapel in the Augustinian Church within the Hofburg Palace complex in Vienna.
  • Pierre David (d. 1839), mayor of Verviers (initially in the United Netherlands, and afterwards in Belgium), whose heart was removed to be buried separately. Disagreements over type of memorial and funding meant that the heart sat in storage at the city hall for four decades before being interred in a fountain.[3][4][5][6] The heart was rediscovered when the fountain underwent extensive renovation works in 2020.[4]
  • Frédéric Chopin (d. 1849), composer. Before his 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.
  • John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute (d. 1900), scholar, art patron and Catholic convert. His heart was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
  • Thomas Hardy (d. 1928), novelist and poet. His ashes were interred in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, while 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.[7]
  • Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria (d. 1943). In 1994, his heart was interred in the Rila Monastery. Due to several removals by different regimes, the main portion of his body has gone missing.
  • Otto von Habsburg (d. 2011), former head of the House of Habsburg. His heart was buried at the Pannonhalma Archabbey in Hungary.

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.[8]

See also[edit]

Herzgruft; a burial chamber that protects 54 urns containing the hearts of members of the House of Habsburg.


  1. ^ Badham 2019, p. 21.
  2. ^ Badham 2019, p. 20.
  3. ^ McGreevy, Nora (2 September 2020). "Renovations Reveal 19th-Century Mayor's Heart Entombed in Belgian Fountain". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  4. ^ a b "Belgian mayor's heart dug out of fountain during renovation works". The Brussels Times. 1 September 2020. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  5. ^ Léon 1979, p. 161
  6. ^ "Verviers - fontaine David". Musée de l'Eau et de la Fontaine (in French). Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  7. ^ http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2101-2378266.html[dead link]
  8. ^ "Legends of the fall Script". Script-o-rama.com. Retrieved 2011-12-10.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Heart-burial". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 13 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 134.
  • Badham, Sally (2019). "Divided in death: the iconography of English medieval heart and entrails monuments". Church Monuments. 34: 16–76.
  • Bradford, C. A. (1933). Heart Burial. London: Allen & Unwin.
  • Dru Drury, Godfrey (1927). "Heart burials and some Purbeck marble heart shrines". Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club. 46: 38–58.
  • Dietz, Armin (1998). Ewige Herzen: Kleine Kulturgeschichte der Herzbestattungen. Munich: Medien & Medizin Verlag. ISBN 3-8208-1339-X.
  • Hartshorne, Emily Sophia (1861). Enshrined Hearts of Warriors and Illustrious People. London: Robert Hardwicke.
  • Warntjes, Immo (2012). "Programmatic double burial (body and heart) of the European high nobility, c.1200–1400: its origin, geography, and functions". In Spiess, Karl-Heinz; Warntjes, Immo (eds.). Death at Court. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. pp. 197–259. ISBN 9783447067607.
  • Weiss-Krejci, Estella (2001). "Restless corpses: secondary burial in the Babenberg and Habsburg dynasties". Antiquity. 75 (290): 769–80. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00089274. S2CID 161843486.
  • Weiss-Krejci, Estella (2010). "Heart burial in medieval and early post-medieval central Europe". In Rebay-Salisbury, Katharina; Sørensen, Marie Louise Stig; Hughes, Jessica (eds.). Body Parts and Bodies Whole: changing relations and meanings (PDF). Studies in Funerary Archaeology. Vol. 5. Oxford: Oxbow Books. pp. 119–34. ISBN 978-1-84217-402-9.
  • Westerhof, Danielle (2008). Death and the Noble Body in Medieval England. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781843834168.

External links[edit]