Henry I’s heart was buried in England while the rest of him was interred in Normandy. During the Crusades it became fashionable, if you died and were sufficiently wealthy, to send bits of your body home for burial – welcome to the age of the heart burial. Most people were buried as soon as possible after they died. For the medieval elite it was rather different. Bodies could be transported very long distances and it made sense to remove the internal organs before the journey – cooks and butchers were often summoned to perform the grisly operation. The viscera were then buried near where the person popped their clogs. Alternatively, as it was expensive and often rather difficult to send the entire body home, the heart was sent in a nice box surrounded by herbs and spices so it didn’t go off on the journey.
Richard the Lionheart’s entrails ( a rarer form of burial) were interred in Chalus; his body was sent to Fontevraud Abbey and his heart was embalmed and buried in Rouen. Embalming does of course provide the clue – transporting bodies was expensive and not something you would volunteer to do in the middle of summer (or at any other time of the year come to think of it). Eleanor of Castile, Edward I’s beloved wife, died near Lincoln. Her entrails were buried in Lincoln after she was embalmed, her heart at Charing Cross as she requested and the rest of her was buried in Westminster Abbey. Robert the Bruce’s heart went on crusade to Grenada before eventually being buried in Melrose Abbey.
In 1299 Pope Boniface VIII issued a papal bull attacking embalming and transporting bodies hundred of miles – although he was quite happy that the bodies should be dug up and moved at a later date.
Why did it become a thing? Well, It was handy if you had links with more than one monastic house as well. Tombs could be erected in all the places where the body was scattered; endowments made for prayers in the different locations and voila a speedy exit from Purgatory in the direction of eternal salvation.
And why exactly have I gone down this avenue? Isabel de Clare was buried at Tintern Abbey as was her right as the Countess of Striguil. She was buried in the quire next to her mother Aoife of Leinster. This is a possibility though, that her heart lies at Kilkenny.