Lesson #309: The Dusty Heart of Richard the Lionhearted

One of my favourite things about Eastern Europe is their morbid penchant for mummifying body parts, often not even of important people, and putting them on display in churches.* I have a bit of a sick sense of humour, so I find it endlessly entertaining.

So, at some point after his somewhat ignoble death (he died of gangrene nearly two weeks after sustaining a wound from a crossbow in Chalus, France) in 1199, the body of Richard I** was disemboweled, and his heart was removed. His body was sent to Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon, but has been lost since at least the French Revolution, his entrails were buried in Chalus, and his heart was shipped off to Rouen.

And then everyone sort of forgot all about the fact that the heart was hanging out in Rouen until it was rediscovered in by a historian in 1838. By that point, it had (naturally, one feels since it was more than 600 years later, which is kind of mind-boggling on its own…”hey, Philippe, come here! I think I just found a 600-year-old heart!”) been reduced to dust. Scientific analysis done last year found heart proteins, linen — probably used to wrap the heart, lead and tin — probably leeched from the lead box the heart was in, mercury — likely an embalming agent, pollen from myrtle, daisy, mint, pine, oak, poplar, plantain, and bellflower — some of which were likely deposits from the air, but the myrtle, daisy, and mint would have been included as part of the embalming process, and frankincense.***

Interesting tidbit about Richard I, while he was King of, and born in, England, his mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine, so he spent very little actual time in England.

*Autobiographical note: I once spent an absurd amount of time wandering around a church with a friend of mine looking REALLY closely at each and every Holy display trying to find a mummified hand only to discover it was right inside the door. We felt stupid.

**whom you know better as the avuncular lion in Disney’s Robin Hood, and who is not to be confused with Richard III whose remains were found under a parking lot in England last year

***More can be read here, here (with pictures!), and here.

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