June 18

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Royal Heart Burial - "Eternal Hearts..."

By Frank

June 18, 2020


"Home is where the heart is

this sentence applies in particular to the Bavarian ruling family of the Wittelsbachs. From the 17th to the 20th century, they had their hearts buried in the wall niches of the Chapel of Grace in Altötting .



Historical background:

The ancients were all about the symbolism of the heart . The Greeks, later the Etruscans and Romans, but especially the ancient Egyptians saw the heart as the central organ . It was considered the seat of the mind, character and soul . This view was adopted by the Jews and the early Christians.

In 1311 , the Council of Vienne ruled that the human soul resided in the whole body , not just the heart. This council, convened by Pope Clement V , also dealt with the dissolution of the Templar Order . Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Templars , is said to have cursed Pope Clement V at the stake in Paris on March 19, 1314 and threatened to kill him within a year. The Pope died on April 20, 1314 .

The separate burial of the intestines was practiced long before the ruling dynasties such as the Habsburgs and Wittelsbachs . Especially during the Crusades, when many crusaders died far from home , it was customary to remove their organs and boil the corpse in red wine in order to be able to survive the long return journey better.



Aha! Cool ....

The heart burial developed from the burial of the intestines , ie in the Middle Ages mostly chest and abdominal intestines were removed, among other things to slow down the decomposition of the body. The thoracic viscera ( prerecordia) were usually removed by a longitudinal incision in the sternum , the abdominal viscera (viscera) by another longitudinal incision from the xiphoid process to the pubic bone.

And who performed the redemption of the heart ? Before sections were allowed, these were monks who had accompanied the dying or other members of the entourage . Later then physicians, surgeons (who at that time did not belong to the medical profession) or barbers , from the 18th century then personal physicians or physicians of the university , from the 19th century also famous pathologists .

In addition to the heart burial, there were also the double burial of and corpus and the triple burial heart-guts-corpus, for example with the Habsburgs, the Wittelsbachs or the Würzburg prince-bishops. Heart burials were mostly in churches.


Thanatology - what is it?

Thanatology or thanatopraxy is the professional application and implementation of measures on the deceased body in order to temporarily preserve it or to carry out reconstructive measures.

The thanatological care of the deceased is also referred to as " modern embalming " - i.e. a modern form of embalming . When most people think of embalming, they think of ancient Egypt and mummies. But apart from the name, the modern form has nothing in common with the embalming of yesteryear.



Unbelievable- Number of heart burials!

Heart burials were particularly widespread in the 16th and 17th centuries . According to the book "Eternal Hearts - Small Cultural History of Heart Burials, the following figures have been handed down: in the 12th century: around 20 heart burials ; 13th - 16th centuries: over 200 heart burials ; 17th century: around 190 heart burials ; 18th century: around 120 Heart burials , 19th and 20th centuries: about 45 heart burials .

A modern representative of this custom is the inventor of the Summer Olympics , Pierre de Coubertin. He had decreed that his heart be buried in a memorial column in Olympia, Greece , in front of the ancient stadium ( 1937 ).


The Guts of the Popes

Of course, most people look to the Trevi Fountain. Few take notice of the church behind them: ready-made baroque (as in hundreds of places in the Eternal City). It is a basilica dedicated to the martyrs Vincentius and Anastasius - the bowels of the popes rest here.

The Roman dialect poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli called it a "museum of entrails and intestines". You sniff involuntarily, but if it smells unpleasantly sweet, then it's definitely just the rose incense of the Bulgarian Orthodox, who occasionally celebrate services here...

The perishable parts, according to the rector of the church, are tightly sealed in earthenware jars embedded in the masonry on the sides of the altar. He says he saw the narrow corridor with the urn depots only once, when he made sure of the dilapidated stairs there. He made an expression as if the curse of the pharaohs lay over the place...

The successors of the apostles are to be given a dignified farewell after their death, and the papal funeral ritual has a nine-day mourning service. In the past, the deceased was laid out for a considerable period of time. This created problems in the Roman summer months. The intestines had to come out so that the dead didn't bloat themselves into monsters...


"What is sown perishable, what is raised imperishable"

(Word of the Apostle Paul)




What's exciting to see?

Chapel of Mercy in Altötting

Altoetting- Chapel of Mercy and Treasury

Pope Benedict XVI called this holy district. once like this:

"Heart of Bavaria and one of the hearts of Europe"

The Black Madonna of Altötting probably dates from the beginning of the 14th century . Many healings through her intercession are attested. She is the reason that every year hundreds of thousands of pilgrims flock to the most famous Marian pilgrimage site in Germany to see the 66 cm tall statue in the Chapel of Grace.

Supposedly it was carved out of wood on the Upper Rhine in 1330 and then, according to tradition, finally came to Altötting via the Raitenhaslach Cistercian monastery .

A visit to the Black Madonna in the Chapel of Grace is not only recommended for believers, but for all art lovers. The visitor magnets include around 2,000 votive and 50 miracle tablets as well as the heart urns of the Bavarian kings and princes . Equally impressive is the historic monumental cyclorama and UNESCO memorial Jerusalem Panorama Crucifixion of Christ .

Probably one of the most famous images of Mary and pilgrimage destination in the world: three popes have already made pilgrimages to the Black Madonna in the Chapel of Mercy in Altötting : Pope Pius VI. in 1782, John Paul II in 1980 and in 2006 Pope Benedict XVI.

A total of three burials (1633, 1634 and 1666) took place in the Chapel of Mercy. In addition, 28 heart burials took place over a period of more than 300 years .

Visible in niches are, among other things:

  1. King Ludwig I (+1868)
  2. King Ludwig II (+1886)
  3. King Otto (+1916) - was replaced as regent by Prince Regent Luitpold due to illness
  4. King Louis III. (+1921)


The urns set up in the wall niches are exclusively made of silver, e.g. T. gilded and decorated with precious stones . The number of heart urns in this material and artistic quality in one place is unique in the world!


However, the term "Altötting - Heart of Bavaria " does not refer to the fact that most heart burials took place here, but rather

the place has been the Christian religious center of Bavaria for centuries .




Chapel of Mercy in Altötting

Chapel Square,

84503 Altötting



About the author

It is more valuable to experience a place in detail than many small impressions of an incomprehensible whole.

Genius Loci - discovering, capturing and experiencing the spirit of a place. Perceive - understand - enjoy!

As a graduate industrial engineer with an additional MBA degree from a renowned university in England (EMBA, EQUIS and AACSB accredited), I have been showing other, often surprising, paths to success for more than 30 years at C-Level (Head of Marketing and Sales worldwide).

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