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Heart Coffin

September 14, 2010

Heart Coffin, British Museum

This was the coffin for Sir Henry Sidney’s heart. The heart was buried separately from the body, at least among the aristocracy in 1586 when Sir Henry died. His heart was buried in Shropshire, his body in Kent.

The inscription reads “HERLITH THE HARTE. OF SYR HENRYE. SYDNY. L.P. ANNO.” The curators notes say:

Another lead urn with name of John Peck and dated 1562 recently acquired by Ryedale Folk Museum in North Yorkshire in 2009, but these are rare. See book in BL by Charles Bradford London 1933 on heart burial for the practice.

By the early 12th century, as noted by Bradford, it was already common practice to eviscerate and bury the body apart from the heart, brain, tongue etc. as part of the embalming process. Heart burial, as a specific practice came later and it is unknown precisely how it came about.

Separating the heart from the body also involves two separate burials. This can be useful, as in the case of Thomas Hardy where the ashes of his body lie at Poet’s corner in Westminster Abbey but his heart is buried next to the grave of his wife.

Where is it?
The Heart coffin can be found in Room 46 (Europe 1400-1800)
It resides on the lowest level of the glass case in the Northeast corner of the room.

Further Reading
Heart burial, Wikipedia
Heart burial, Google books, Charles Angell Bradford

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