Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lionheart's Heart

February was a good month for tying up loose ends in the 'Dead Monarchs named Richard' department.  First the whole finding Richard III under a parking lot thing, now Richard I is in the headlines as his heart is undergoing analysis to determine a cause of death. Nicknamed the Lionheart for his battlefield bravery and military intelligence, King Richard I met his end while inspecting a French castle he'd besieged in 1199. An arrow (claimed to have been dipped in poison) pierced his shoulder and the wound turned gangrenous.

Richard's heart was embalmed and buried separately from his body as was custom for royals during the Middle Ages. It recently underwent biomedical analysis using modern forensic techniques and although poison wasn't found, something far more interesting was. Various spices and vegetables were found alongside the heart including daisy, myrtle, mint, incense, mercury, and frankincense. Used in the embalming process, they are believed to have been directly inspired by Christ. 

The embalming materials were all chosen for either practical or symbolic reasons. Mercury was used to prevent decomposition and frankincense is devoted to important people in history for both its fragrance and its parallel to Jesus.

Medieval apothecaries practiced such intricate methods of preservation because the heart was a symbol of the soul and the conservation of the organ was an important political gesture.

And Richard in fact does not have a lion heart.

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