Composers / Fryderyk Chopin / Places catalog

Holy Cross Church

A wayside chapel of the Holy Cross, standing on the spot of the present-day church, was first mentioned in 1510. Since that time, the Church of the Holy Cross has become an important place of worship for the Polish people. It stands out from the country’s many other churches in that this is where ceremonial services and patriotic demonstrations are held. It was here that Prince Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski and Stanisław Małachowski were buried. It was from here that the mortal remains of Stanisław Kostka Potocki, Edward Odyniec, Stanisław Moniuszko, Karol Szymanowski and Paweł Jasienica left for their final resting place.

The heart of Fryderyk Chopin is in the left pillar of the upper church.

Chopin died in Paris on 17 October 1849 and was buried in Père-Lachaise cemetery.

His final wish, however, was that his heart be removed from his body and taken back to Poland. The heart was conserved in a crystal vessel filled with spirits (although one implausible legend has it that it might have been brandy) and placed in a wooden box. Chopin’s sister, Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, who was with him when he died, brought it back to Poland. The composer’s heart made its way to Holy Cross Church, probably sometime around 1860 (date uncertain), thanks to the mediation of Bp Jan Dekert (at least according to Ludwika’s son Antoni Jędrzejewicz), where it spent the next thirty or so years in the catacombs. The heart was moved to its present location in 1880, as the result of a social initiative, which began with an endowment for an epitaph provided by Izabella Barcińska, the second of Chopin’s sisters.

According to one version of events, it was the Germans who saved the heart from the turmoil of the Second World War. Another version has it that it was the Home Army. Suffice it to say that it survived the final months of the war thanks to Bp Antoni Szlagowski, who hid it in Milanówek. It was from there that on 17 October 1945 it made its way back to the reconstructed Holy Cross Church in Warsaw, via Żelazowa Wola, to the accompaniment of a grand ceremony organised by the ‘people’s authorities’.

The casket with the heart remained sealed for many decades. In 1945, it was examined by Bronisław Edward Sydow, who stated that it was preserved in perfect condition.

Given the growing anxiety in many circles about the state of the heart, in 2014 it was decided to conduct a further – non-invasive – inspection. The urn containing the heart was removed from the pillar on 14 April that year. The Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Bogdan Zdrojewski, the Archbishop of Warsaw, Card. Kazimierz Nycz, the Director of the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Dr Artur Szklener, biologist Prof. Tadeusz Dobosz and molecular biologist and clinical geneticist Prof. Michał Witt were all present at the examination.

The inspection revealed that the heart was intact. It lies in a crystal jar sealed with petroleum jelly and placed in a velvet-lined box (the lid bears an inscription: 'Fryderyk Chopin, b. Poland 1 March 1810 AD, d. Paris 17 October 1849'), placed inside another box.

As it was ascertained that there had only been a small loss of the conserving fluid, the jar with the heart was additionally sealed with a layer of warm beeswax. The examiners recommended that the heart next be inspected in fifty years’ time.

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