Chopin's Heart - an untold history
Updated: Mar 6, 2019
On March 1, 2019, we celebrate the 209th anniversary of the birth of Fryderyk Chopin.
Chopin needs not an introduction nor a presentation. Everyone knows that he was a genius composer and piano virtuoso.
A Great Pole. A Patriot. A Romantic. An Emigrant.
He was not a health specimen, he had lung problems since his childhood. At the age of 20, he sensed that he was leaving his homeland forever.
A few weeks before his departure, he wrote to his friend, Tytus Woyciechowski:
"I think I am going away to die - and how miserable it must be to die somewhere else, not where you lived."
He spent 19 years in exile, first in Vienna, and from autumn 1831 in France.
On October 16, 1849, on the eve of his death, he handed over to his sister Ludwika Jędrzejowiczowa, who looked after him in Paris, his last will:
"I know that Paskiewicz (the Russian governor of the Kingdom of Poland) will not let you take me to Warsaw, so at least, take my heart ".
Dr Jean Cruveilhier, who carried out the autopsy, fulfilled his will and during the examination of the body the heart was removed, put in alcohol and placed in an air tight crystal vessel.
Chopin was buried on 30th October 1849 at the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
Soon after, Ludwika embarked on a return trip to Poland.
To avoid trouble at the border, she carried the vessel with her brother's heart illegally. The precious reclic was kept for some time in the apartment of Jędrzejewicze at Podwale Str. in Warsaw. Then the family handed it over to the parish church of Holy Cross at the nearby Krakowskie Przedmieście Str..
The parish priest reluctantly accepted this gift, because Chopin was not known for his religiousness. His relationship with the writer George Sand, divorced and scandalous, was widely known.
Only after the intervention of Bishop Jan Dekert, a friend of Chopin's father, the box with priceless content was deposited at the church basement. And perhaps by doing so, it survived during the church robbery by the Russians in 1863.
The composer's heart was rightly honored as late as 1880. The funds from a specially organized concert financed a marble epitaph (designed by Leonadro Marconi and Andrzej Pruszyński).
With a great national pomp the relic was placed in the pillar of the upper nave of the church and covered with a plaque with the inscription:
"To Fryderyk Chopin – by his fellow Countrymen"
"Where thy treasure is, and thy heart therein" *
* quote from the Gospel of Saint. Matthew.
In 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising, the church of Holy Cross at Krakowskie Przedmieście Str. found itself in the middle of the fights. Although the temple was almost completely destroyed, Chopin's heart survived.
Priest Alojzy Niedziela, who worked at the time at the Holy Cross church reported later:
“It was probably August 10 . A German officer came to the church with some soldiers and asked if he could take out the casket with Chopin's heart. He was a great lover of his music. He said that this relic of the Polish nation should not be destroyed. He asked if he could take it out and give it to the church authorities to which we agreed. "
Fragments of the Nazi film chronicle from September 9, 1944 have survived.
SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski - later known as the "executioner of Warsaw" - handed over the casket with Chopin's heart to the Archdiocese of Warsaw Archbishop Antoni Szlagowski. The priest confirmed this in a handwritten report drawn up just after his return to Milanowek, where he was temporarily interned.
Chopin's heart was not returned immediately from Milanowek to the former place to the church at Krakowskie Przedmieście. The then communist leader of Poland - Boleslaw Bierut - wanted to present himself on this occasion, but chose not to visit the church. Therefore, on 17 October 1945, on the 96th anniversary of the composer's death, a huge ceremony was arranged in Żelazowa Wola, the birthplace of Chopin.
Hundreds of workers, students and residents of the capital were transported by buses, and accompanied by the military. There were national flags, banners, flowers and a recital by Henryk Sztompka.
After the ceremony, the envoy of Archbishop Szlagowski handed Bierut a box with the heart. Bierut gave a speech and in turn delivered the gift to the President of Warsaw, Stanisław Tołwiński. It was only then that the relic was finally handed over to a delegation of students from the Warsaw’s musical schools, who marched in a ceremonial procession, with national flags headed towards the church.
At noon, a solemn Mass began in the church of Holy Cross and the composer's heart rested on the former site in the upper aisle.
In April 2014, with the consent of church authorities, scientists led by prof. Tadeusz Dobosz from Wrocław conducted a study of the composer's heart. Fears that due to alcohol leak the heart could be damaged were waived . The organ was unexpectedly large for a human heart, it has a white color and is in excellent condition, it was declared.
At the press conference prof. Dobosz said: "Probably the cause of the composer's death was tuberculosis - the anatomical changes detected in this organ seem to fully prove the cause of death".
The study report was placed next to the heart capsule together with a request for similar inspection in 50 years’ time.
If you want to visit places that are particularly close to Chopin in Warsaw and Żelazowa Wola, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chopin – Private Tour in Poland.
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