In the middle of an archaeology dig in Rennes, France in 2013, researchers stumbled upon an unusual find. In the sealed lead lined coffin of a noble woman, named Louise De Quengo, Lady of Brefeillac, a lead heart-shaped container was found which was engraved with the name of her husband. Inside this container was her husband’s preserved heart. A seemingly literal interpretation of giving someone your heart, and quite a romantic find.
What do we know about these two lovers? Well, not that much really. Louise was buried in 1656, in the garb of the religious order of the nuns where she was buried. She was not believed to have become a nun, but it may have been to honour her; either in recognition of her service to the religion as a lay person, or may also have been as a consequence of giving a large gift or donation to the religious order before her death.
It was not that unusual in medieval times to have parts of bodies removed and buried with other family members, loved ones, or donated to an institution. The heart being the most important organ to the removed as it was thought to be the centre of the soul and the functioning of the human body, that it was capable of “radiating power within the body just as the king confers grace upon his kingdom”.
Louise’s body was amazingly well preserved; even her shoes and the clothes she wore were still supple enough to be moved. When her body was x-rayed, it was revealed that her heart had been removed also, and is presumed to lay buried with her husband, Toussaint de Perrien, Knight of Brefeillax who pre-deceased her by seven years and was buried 125 miles away near Carhaix.
Heart Shaped Box
The heart shape is known to have been used for a very long time, and is originally thought to have been a representation of constancy and rebirth and is likened in appearance to ivy leaves in ancient Greece.
The heart in Egyptian times was left inside the chest, as it was believed it was a sacred organ where the intellect and soul met. It was always buried with the mummy so that it could be there in the afterlife. In medieval times, such as when Louise and her husband were buried, it was just as likely for people to link love with other organs such as the liver or kidneys. Many royal families buried their hearts separated from their bodies, in places of significance for the deceased.
In medieval times, the church wanted to claim the heart shape as a symbol for divine love, and the close relationship of the church to the heart shape can be seen in an ordinary deck of playing cards. Before the advent of the printing press in 1480, the suit of hearts in a deck of playing cards was symbolised by the Holy Grail. The swords representing the gentry, the diamonds representing the merchant class, the clubs representing agriculture, and the hearts replacing cups / Holy Grail representing the clergy. Thinking about these meanings and the history of the symbol of the heart, the box in Louise’s grave may well be a reflection of a connection to the divine as well as a connection of love for her husband.
Louise’s remains have been reburied near where they were found, but there is no news if her husbands grave has been located and if Louise’s heart is buried next to him. I for one hope it is.