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There are many amazing historical artefacts across Devon, our churches being particularly extensive repositories of family history. It never ceases to surprise me what richness lurks behind fairly sober exterior façades.
HEART BURIAL – Edward Courtenay
It’s an odd thing, burying a heart, but it was a practice that was carried out because of the reverence in which the heart was held: courage, affection, soul, they were all attributes associated to this organ. Heart burial is an ancient practice, and as you’d expect, the heart is buried apart from the body. For instance, the heart of Henry I was interred at Rouen Cathedral, and his body buried in Reading Abbey. In mediaeval Europe this was a fairly widespread practice. Heart burials coincided with the Crusades, where it would have been difficult to transport a whole body back from the Holy Lands, a heart was a much more convenient size to preserve, pack and ship home.
The heart burial tomb of Edward Courtenay (the only son of Sir Hugh & Lady Philippa Courtenay) is a particularly fine example, fashioned from alabaster and said to be made in London, being of comparable quality to clothed effigies in Westminster Abbey. He is said to have died whilst a student at Oxford, because a brass plaque in Christ Church chapel makes reference to him.
Heart burial was later banned by Pope Boniface VIII in the early 1300s.
CRUSADER KNIGHT – Stephen de Haccombe
It really is staggering when you consider the magnitude of the undertaking, boarding a ship to the Holy Land in order to fight in the Crusades.
Firstly, sailing any distance was to put yourself in major jeopardy, so to cross the English Channel and sail across the Bay of Biscay and traverse the full length of the Mediterranean sea was no small task. If you were lucky enough to survive the vagaries of the weather whilst on-board, then you also had to suffer the pirates waiting to intercept your ship. Of course there were land routes, but the time taken was greater and danger ever present en-route.
You have to ask yourself why these knights put themselves in so much danger, as there were no obvious monetary gains to be made?
The reasons are many, the most obvious being religious, to be forgiven past sins, to answer the Pope’s calling, but there were some gains to be made:- land for younger sons who would not inherit, to go for the fighting and show bravery, possibly earn honours, also to experience the world, rural Devon would have been very quiet, so this would have been extremely exciting, particularly for young nobles.
In 1071, Muslim Turks defeated the Byzantine army, and by the 1090s it had become difficult for Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem. The Byzantine Emperor appealed to Pope Urban III to help regain Jerusalem for Christianity and by 1099 Christian knights and nobles had recaptured Jerusalem in a bloody battle (the first Crusade).
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