Bruce's heart examined in laboratory
The following article by Robert McNeil featured on the front page of the Scotsman newspaper of 3rd September, 1996.
Laying bare the heart of the Bruce ...
On a white table in a laboratory on an industrial estate lay the heart of one of the greatest
figures of Scottish history.
It was encased in an ancient lead casket, which was in turn stored in a more recent container, also made of lead. Around the table stood men and women in white overalls and face masks. At the laboratory entrance, a cluster of news cameras filmed the operation.
They had come to record the authentication of the casket containing the mummified heart of King Robert the Bruce.
The casket was discovered last Wednesday by experts from Kirkdale Archaeology, who were excavating the chapter house at Melrose Abbey. But it was still not certain that this was the right casket.
The heart of the Bruce was buried at the abbey after it had been taken on a Crusade, as requested on his death bed in 1329. His body was buried at Dunfermline Abbey.
At Melrose in 1921, archaeologists found an embalmed heart in a cone-shaped casket, and believed it was the king's heart. They sealed it in another lead container and reburied it. Before doing so, they took a photograph of the cone-shaped container, which became one of the few records of the excavation.
Yesterday, therefore, investigators at the Historic Scotland laboratory at South Gyle, Edinburgh, knew what to look for.
The lead casing made X-raying impractical. Screwdrivers and hacksaws were called for, and grew increasingly large and decreasingly sophisticated as the outer casing proved tough to crack.
A fibrescope with a minute camera had already been inserted through small drilled holes. It confirmed that something of approximately the right shape was inside the outer container. It also revealed a piece of paper, perhaps a note.
Ninety minutes after the start of the operation, a sweatsoaked Richard Welander, of Historic Scotland, finally hacksawed off the end of the outer container. Over another hour later, after further work to remove an obstruction, the cone-shaped casket emerged.
Measuring 9.25 inches in height by 4.75 inches at its base, it was a plain receptacle for a king's heart, but originally it had been held in an elaborate reliquary. The paper turned out to be wrapping for a small copper plaque commemorating the 1921 excavation.
Last night, Mr Welander expressed relief after the "nervewracking" operation was over, particutarly as he had feared the corroded base of the cone would come away.
The cone will remain unopened, not so much because of a slight danger of lurking microbes, but out of decency."We are absolutely resolved that we will not expose the human remains to cameras, simply out of respect and also because it is not very good practice. Be he king or pauper there has to be a level of respect," said a Historic Scotland inspector, Doreen Grove.
Mrs Grove said there could not be absolute proof that the heart belonged to Bruce. But this is the only one we know of that is buried at Melrose Abbey."
The casket will be held at an undisclosed location until next spring, when it will be reburied in a new outer container in a special ceremony at the abbey. A competition is to be held to design a memorial stone.
John & Linda
I have just read the article about Robert the Bruce's heart and am interested in finding out about the competition to design the memorial.Do you know where I might look? If Americans are able to join the competition I would like to submit an entry.Thanks for your help.
We've emailed the Scotsman and asked who is running the competition. We'll let you know if we get an answer back.
You could try writing or telephoning:
Telephone: +44 (0) 131 668 8600
Updates: January and February 1998. See Bruces's Heart still in Edinburgh
Braveheart @ MacBraveHeart