Although composer Frederic Chopin's body rests in Paris, his heart belongs to Poland. And recently, scientists exhumed that heart for a scientific check-up.
Scientists checked the heart, secured in a jar 155 years ago, making sure that the alcohol preserving it wasn't evaporated. It was later returned to its final resting place.
The secret operation involved 13 people, including the archbishop of Warsaw, the Polish culture minister, two scientists and other officials. The affair was so secret that it wasn't announced until five months after it took place. Even now, though, no photos of the event are available for publication, save for those shown to reporters.
Chopin's final wishes included burying his body in Paris, but he wanted his heart removed and sent to Poland. Although Chopin exiled himself from Poland, where he was born, because of Russia's occupation of the country, he wanted his heart resting there after death. His wishes were granted: his body lies in a tomb at Paris' Pere Lachaise cemetery, but his heart took an adventure of its own.
Once removed, someone sealed the heart in a jar of liquor, probably cognac. His sister smuggled the jar under her skirt into Warsaw past Russian border guards. Once there, it passed into the hands of several relatives before finding its place within a pillar at Holy Cross Church in the city. However, during World War II, the Nazis took the heart, but it eventually found its way back to the church.
Chopin's heart is almost sacred to the Polish because his music represented the spirit of the people there. The heart's journey mirrors that of Polish history: it survived foreign occupation and war before gaining freedom.
Chopin died in Paris at the age of 35 due to unknown causes, although many speculate it was tuberculosis. Many have pushed for testing the heart for evidence of the disease, and scientists hoped they could do that during this most recent inspection.
However, the Polish wouldn't allow tissue samples, so scientists could only visually inspect the heart and take photos of it, making sure that the liquor inside the jar wasn't evaporating. They added hot wax to the jar's seal to protect it. Church officials said prayers and the heart was returned to its resting place.
"The spirit of this night was very sublime," says Tadeusz Dobosz, the forensic scientist on the team.
Scientists will get another peek at the heart in 50 years, when it's due for its next inspection.