Reliquary of Anne of Brittany stolen: why the heart of the sovereigns was it preserved?


The flight of the case, of inestimable value, left many Bretons in tears. The reliquary of the heart of Anne of Brittany was stolen this weekend at the Dobrée Museum in Nantes (Loire-Atlantique), birthplace of the Queen of France. The piece, made in 1514 by an anonymous silversmith of the court of Blois, was visible to the public as part of an exhibition. At the death of the queen, in 1514, her heart was placed in this oval box of gold and deposited in the convent of the Carmelites, in Nantes, in the tomb of her parents. His body was buried on the other hand in Saint-Denis, place of gathering of the royal burials. Before Anne of Brittany, many sovereigns received multiple burials.
This practice of burial separated from the heart, old, develops in the kingdom of France in XIII e century. The first queen to know this plural burial is Blanche de Castille, who died in 1252. The first French king, Philip III. This funerary ritual, known as “Dilaceratio corporis” (or “division of the bodies”), grows to the death of Charles V, in 1380, tells the historian Alexandre Bande in The king’s heart . The Capetians and multiple burials XIII e fifteenth e centuries (Tallandier, 2009). The heart of the sovereign is then buried in a specific ceremony and placed in a richly decorated urn (as in the case of Anne of Brittany) or in a carved recumbent. This tomb is different from the recumbent body by the presence of a little carved heart in the character’s left hand ” can you read on the site of the basilica of Saint-Denis . A similar process exists for the bowels, buried in a third place: the heart of Charles V was for example sent to Rouen, his bowels to Maubuisson and his body to Saint-Denis.
The heart, a symbolic organ
The body of the sovereign is often exposed to his family, his subjects and his courtiers after his death, we proceed to the removal of the heart and viscera to prevent decomposition. Once removed, the heart is opened to be emptied of blood and dried. ” Embalming has a hygienic advantage, it delays the putrefaction and facilitates for example the transport of the body Explains to Release Stanis Perez, Associate Professor and Doctor of History at EHESS, author of The King’s Corps ( Perrin, 2018). The heart also has a strong symbolic value in a society deeply imbued with spirituality. ” In the Middle Ages, the heart is more important than the brain. It is the place of sensibility, piety, faith “Says Stanis Perez, who quotes the example of the heart of Anne de Bretagne, an extraordinary size, supposed to be the sign of a” extraordinary virtue “.
This practice of burial of sovereigns, however, poses a problem for the Church, which considers that only the saints can see their bodies fragmented to make relics. Mortals must be buried while respecting the integrity of the body. With the exception of St. Louis, ” the rulers are not saints and this principle is supposed to be respected “Says historian Stanis Perez. The Church also fears a form of idolatry around these human remains, the separation of the remains of the sovereign to multiply the ceremonies and places where to honor the deceased. Still, for the religious, the financial advantage to accommodate this type of relics is not negligible: the tombs of heart, objects of worship, attract the crowds, and having a maximum of relics generates a maximum of donations from the faithful.
The Parisian region privileged for burials
Although in some cases the successor may decide where his father’s heart is buried, the choice is usually made by will, before the death of the sovereign. At the beginning of the XIV e century, Philippe V thus provides for himself a triple burial, stresses Alexandre Bande in his work. For their hearts, ” the Bourbons have privileged places Saint-Denis or the Paris region, putting aside their provincial or foreign origins Adds the historian Stanis Perez. Many royal hearts preserved in the basilica of Saint-Denis disappeared in 1793, at the time of the desecration of the basilica (we can however still find, among others, marble funerary urn from the heart of Francis I). The thrilling Louis XIV, he was originally buried in the Church of St. Louis Jesuits (present church Saint-Louis-Saint-Paul, in the Marais). Like Louis XIII, the Sun King chose to imitate Henri IV, who had bequeathed his heart to the Jesuits.
By their choice, the rulers favor a beggar order (for example the Franciscans or Dominicans) in relation to another and honor a religious establishment with which they had links. This gift is ” a tradition, a practice of piety Which can be seen as a form of reward that endorses or validates political support “, Stanis Perez analyzes. Questioned by Ocean Press on Monday, the historian Alain Croix warns against the interpretations that have been made a posteriori of these choices: the will of Anne of Brittany to bury her heart in Nantes is above all « an aristocratic gesture “, a ” symbolic affirmation of his rights beyond death ” and no ” a gesture of love for the people of Nantes “, a ” myth Born at the end of the XIX e century, estimates the historian. At the risk of offending readers of the local daily.

Juliette Deborde


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