INCENSE and sweet-smelling plants were used to preserve the heart of Richard the Lionheart and French scientists say the scents may have been used to save him from purgatory.
Noted pathologist Philippe Charlier was allowed to examine 60 grams of the remains of the legendary English king’s heart and found it had been soaked in frankincense. He said: “The heart was deposed in linen, associated with myrtle, daisy, mint, frankincense, creosote, mercury and, possibly, lime”.
Charlier was examining the embalming methods used and, in an article in Nature Scientific Reports he added: “The goal of using such preservation materials was to allow long-term conservation of the tissues, and good-smelling similar to the one of the Christ (comparable to the odor of sanctity).”
It was customary for a warrior’s entrails to be buried on the battlefield and while his body was buried at the Abbaye de Fontevraud in Maine et Loire - where his father, Henry II, was already interred – and Dr Charlier said Richard’s heart was embalmed to survive the journey to Rouen, nearly 530km away.
Although known for his noble acts, Richard had rebelled against his father and massacred Muslims and Jews so the incense “ inspired by biblical spices, was necessary in order to accelerate his religious apotheosis”.
It may have worked, as Charlier quotes a 13th century bishop of Rochester saying Lionheart spent “33 years in Purgatory as expiation for his sins, and ascended to Heaven only in March 1232”.