Eternal Hearts—History of Heart Burial in Europe
17. Heart Transplantation—the life of the heart after death
When Christian Barnard transplanted the heart of a road casualty to his patient, the 54-year-old Louis Washkansky, on the 3 rd December 1967, the general public was far more impressed than by other pioneering works of medicine. The reason for this lies in the mystical significance embedded in the subconscious of modern man, which associates this cardiac muscle with the state of being alive. The transplantation of the heart of a dead person, which carries on living in the body of the recipient, is a modern, secular analogy of heart burial.
Philipp Blaiberg, the second patient to successfully
receive a heart transplant from Barnard, remembers in
his autobiography a typical episode: "Prof. Barnard and
I sat on my bed and contemplated my heart with cool
professional interest. Prof. Barnard looked up from my
heart and said mockingly, "Are you aware, Dr. Blaiberg,
that you are the first person in history who is able to
observe his own dead heart?".
In all probability there will be no more heart burials. The magical significance of this tradition can be comprehended only by social and cultural historians and supporters of the monarchy. Visitors pass by the dusty urns and cardiotaphs thoughtlessly without comprehension. And yet this funerary custom remains an impressive embodiment of the adoption of the heart in popular belief and in the cultural and religious history of old Europe.