King Richard I's Embalmed Heart – Rouen, France - Atlas Obscura

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King Richard I's Embalmed Heart

Church of Notre-Dame

His "Lionheart" is entombed separately from the rest of his body. 

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King Richard I, or Richard the Lionheart, was known for his courage and military prowess in the Crusades. He met his end at the small castle of Châlus-Chabrol 1199, after being shot by a peasant’s crossbow. A surgeon botched the removal of the arrow, and Richard died when the wound became septic.

In keeping with the distribution his entrails were removed and buried in Châlus, in the very cathedral that the fatal arrow was fired from. His body was sent to Fontevraud Abbey to be buried in a grave next to his father’s, but his heart was removed and sent to Rouen. It was embalmed and entombed in a sarcophagus bearing his image in the Church of Notre-Dame in Rouen.

During church renovations in the 19th century a small lead box was discovered beneath Richard the Lionheart’s effigy. Inscribed on the lid was the phrase “HIC IACET COR RICARDI REGIS ANGLORUM”—“Here is the heart of Richard, King of England.” Inside the box was a fine, rusty powder, all that remained of the king’s heart. Forensic analysis conducted in 2013 found that the organ had been wrapped in fine linens and perfumed with herbs, flowers, and lime. Traces of rare frankincense were also found on the ancient heart, an allusion to the Christ-like nature of the king.

Despite their scientific intrigue and historic importance these are still human remains and had to be treated with respect. The royal heart was reinterred in the coffin at Rouen.

Update as of September 2022: Due to renovations, the tomb can only be viewed through a gate.

Know Before You Go

Follow the right-hand aisle towards the back of the cathedral. After passing the altar, the tomb is on the left-hand side.

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