Human heart in a lead heart-shaped case.
Place details: EUROPE. Ireland. Ireland County Cork Cork City South Main Street Christ Church Crypt. Cultural Group: European Irish ?Christian Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Lead Metal / Human Body Part / Silver Metal / ?. Processes: ?. Dimensions: Max L = 230 mm H = 90 mm W = 158 mm Depth = 198 mm When Collected: 1863 Acquired: Donated 1884 Other Numbers: 50
KEYWORD: Heart / Box / CLASS: Religion / Death / Box / Physical Anthropology / ?.
Publications history, trails & websites: This object features in the Museum's audio tour produced in 2010. Transcription as follows: “This casket is a ‘cist’, a container for sacred items or sometimes bones. In this instance, it contains a human heart. General Pitt Rivers acquired it in Ireland in the 1860s while on service with the Army. It was discovered in the crypt of Christ Church in the city of Cork. Christ Church is one of the oldest churches in Cork, founded by the Knights Templar in the 12th century on the site of an even earlier church. The present-day 18th-century church was rebuilt on top of the medieval crypt. Pitt Rivers recalled how a workman down there found it in a wooden box in a niche in a pillar. It was opened and the heart was intact but shrunken in size. To prevent decay, it had been embalmed in salt and the casket made of lead.
The removal of the heart from a dead body, in order to bury it in a separate place, was an age-old practice. The Ancient Egyptians removed the heart and other organs from the body and preserved them in canopic jars. Heart burials in Europe are recorded from the Middle Ages. If a king or warrior fell in battle or died in a foreign country, it was sometimes impossible to bring the body home intact so the heart alone was returned home to his family. This was in line with the growing notion of courtly love and ideas about the heart as the seat of the soul, affections, courage and conscience of man. / Richard the Lionheart, King of England, died in France in 1199 and, according to his instructions, his heart was buried next to his brother in Rouen Cathedral and his body was buried elsewhere. The lead box containing his heart was lined with silver, just as this leaden cist shows traces of a very thin, corroded layer of silver. We do not know exactly how old it is – perhaps as much as 7- or 800 years. The heart shape corresponds to this time when the heart symbol was appearing on playing cards and in heraldry. Also, this cist is plain – later heart burial caskets tend to be inscribed. In fact, it is very similar to one discovered at Christ Church Cathedral Dublin, which contained the heart of the Archbishop and Saint, Laurence O’Toole, who died in 1180. / Heart burials gradually declined in Christian Europe until a resurgence in the 19th century. This was probably connected to the revival of Gothic arts and architecture, and medieval ideas about romance and chivalry. It may also have been adopted into the Victorian culture of death which, encouraged by Queen Victoria’s 40-year period of mourning for her husband Prince Albert, led to a proliferation of black funerary fashion, trinkets, funerary cards, and post-mortem photography. Heart burials in the Victorian era were generally restricted to celebrities, poets, artists and aristocrats and had more to do with sentiment than practicalities. The heart of the novelist Thomas Hardy, whose ashes lie in Westminster Abbey, is buried next to his wife in Dorset, whilst the heart of African explorer and missionary David Livingstone, was removed and kept by the local tribes-people in Zambia who held him in high esteem. The heart of Lord Byron was kept in Greece after he had become a national hero of the Greek independence movement. / As the Victorian era came to a close, so the practice of heart burials also declined, with some notable exceptions in the C20th such as Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic games. He died in Switzerland in 1954 but requested his heart be buried in a monument near the original ancient stadium at Olympia in Greece. One of the last notable heart burials was that of Princess Zita, the last Empress of Austria, in a Swiss monastery in 1989." (Written by Helen Hales) References: Edwards, E., ‘Human heart in a heart-shaped cist’, Rethinking Pitt Rivers project, Pitt Rivers Museum (2008), accessed at: http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/rpr/index.php/objectbiographies/75-human-heart-in-a-heart-shaped-cist-18845718; Morris, J., ‘Dead but not Buried’, Museums Journal, Vol. 103 (Dec. 2003), p. 12–13; Dietz, Dr. A., ‘Eternal Hearts—History of Heart Burial in Europe’, accessed at:
http://www.herzbestattung.de/english/index.html; Bradford, C. A., Heart Burial, London: Allen & Unwin (1933); Lunham, T. A., ‘Some Historical Notices of Cork in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Mar. 31, 1904), p. 66; Hartshorne, E. S., Enshrined Hearts of Warriors and Illustrious People, London: Robert Hardwicke (1861) [HH 25/10/2010]
This object was described, discussed, and exhibited by Lane-Fox [later Pitt-Rivers] at a meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute on 7 December 1866. The following is transcribed from the published Proceedings of that meeting in the Archaeological Journal, Vol. 24 (1867), pp. 71-2: 'Lieut.-Colonel A. Lane-Fox exhibited and gave an account of the discovery of a human heart enclosed in a leaden case in a church at Cork. / It was found, about four years ago, in the centre of a pillar in the crypt or vaults beneath Christ's Church, Cork. // The place was in process of being cleared, and one of the workmen putting his hand into a niche in the p[illar, discovered the heart. I regret that I am unable to maintain more accurate information as to the exact position in which it was found. The heart was opened by the gentleman from whom I obtained it, and was found to be embalmed in salt. An accurate pencil drawing of the heart, taken at the time, is also exhibited. It has shrunk considerably since. The weight of the several parts was found to be as follows: - Leaden case... 5 lb. 12½ oz. / Embalming ... 1 lb. 14 oz. / Heart ... 0 lb. 7½ oz. / The story supposed to be attached to the relic is, that it belonged to some distinguished individual, and was being carried to the East; that the ship in which it was conveyed put into Cork Harbour a mere wreck, and the heart was deposited in Christ's Church. I attach no value whatever to this story, which, I think it very probable, was invented by the finder to serve some purpose of his own. The difficulty of obtaining authentic information in that part of the world respecting any object of antiquity is very great / At the time of finding, I am informed, a very thin coating of silver, much corroded, was found adhering to the case. Referring to Miss Hartshorne's work on Enshrined Hearts, I find that the heart of Richard Coeur de Lion, which was discovered in Rouen Cathedral in 1838, was encased within two boxes of lead; within this there was a second interior case, and upon it a think leaf of silver which time had in great part destroyed. The case, it will be seen, is 'heart-shaped,' and measures 8 in. in length by 6½ in. greatest breadth. It is similar in form to that in which the heart of Robert the Bruce was enshrined, which Douglas wore with a chain round his neck, and which has since been retained in the arms of the Douglas family.' The reference to Miss Hartshorne is to Enshrined Hearts of Warriors and Illustrious People, by Emily Sophia Hartshorne (London, 1861). The present whereabouts of the drawing Lane-Fox refers to is not known. (Photocopy in RDF.) [unsigned, undated; JC 29 4 2010, 7 5 2010]
Illustrated on page 13 of the Museums Journal, Vol. CIII, no. 12 (December 2003), where it illustrates the article 'Dead but not Buried', by Jane Morris (pp. 12-13). [JC 10 11 2004]
Listed in the Museum's press release of 31 October 2003 on 'Human Remains in the Pitt Rivers Museum' (online at http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/human.html): '1884.57.18. On display: Court, case 122. Europe, Ireland, County Cork, Cork. Human heart in a lead case. Said to have come from the crypt of the oldest church in Cork. Acquired by Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers in 1863. Pitt Rivers served in the Army in Ireland from 1862 to 1866 and probably acquired this object while he was there. It was displayed at Bethnal Green Museum with other material from his collections, probably from 1874, and then at the South Kensington Museum. It was transferred to Oxford from there in 1884.' [JC 10 11 2004]
Illustrated in colour, and discussed in relation to other examples of the separate burial of hearts, in 'Human Heart in a Heart Shaped Cist 1884.57.18', by Eric Edwards, in Rethinking Pitt-Rivers: Analyzing the Activities of a Nineteenth-Century Collector, Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford [website]; online at http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/rpr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=75:human-heart-in-a-heart-shaped-cist-18845718&catid=1. [JC 29 4 2010]