In a message dated 97-10-21 10:40:56 EDT, you write:
> I don't know any details except that they were embalmed in some way and
> then placed in sealed urns. The etiquette/ritual for opening the bodies
> of deceased Bourbons was elaborate and public (at least in the presence of
> the members of the deceased's household--chamberlains, ladies in waiting,
> assorted knaves, jokers, flunkies and so forth). Most of the organs were
> removed and also embalmed but the hearts alone were deposited at Val-de-
> (Other organs went to St-Denis along w/the body.) Possibly substances
> used in the embalming accounted for the iridescence?
> John Parsons
Sounds that way, John. Cadavers and biological specimans can be preseved in
formaldehyde, which I think preserves the color. I pickled a dead baby mouse
in alcohol when I was about 9, and it looked OK indefinitely--until those in
charge found out about it and took it away as an unsuitable plaything for a
child. I don't know if formaldehyde is what's used in modern embalming, but
I have the impression it's some kind of liquid.
I believe there's only one papyrus that tells how the Egyptians mummified,
and I don't know if the instructions are considered reliable. The body was
soaked in salt water for 60 days, I think, with things done with unspecified
"herbs." The internal organs were removed first (they'd otherwise rot
quickly) and put in the tomb in special jars called canopic jars.
One indication that the Egyptians were essentially drying out the body (not
embalming it in a modern sense) is that mummification is also found in Peru.
Like the Egyptians, the Indians on the coast of Peru live in a dry climate
near a desert. They wrapped dead bodies in fabrics and buried them in the
sand, which preserved the fabric and dried out the body. One theory is that
the Egyptians accidentally discovered that the bodies they were burying in
the Sahara weren't rotting, and then tried to improve on the natural process.
My favorite example of a preserved body was in what used to be the Museum of
the American Indian, and I think this material was moved to the Smithsonian.
A British explorer was killed by some South American tribe which shrunk his
entire body, moustache and all, down to about 18 inches high. The color
looked perfectly natural, and it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen.
We, incidentally, are relic collectors too, and our reliquaries are called
museums. Especially some of the earlier things in art museums are hard to
justify as aesthetic objects or even beautiful objects. Mummies, broken
shards from old Greek pottery, a Paleolithic "hammer" (or whatever it was
used for), etc. Nobody's going to throw away a Byzantine icon, even if it's
badly made for that kind of thing and the artist must have been a terrible
craftsman. If the piece isn't "museum quality," it drifts down to the
antique market. In the natural history museums, I'm sure there's a
scientific value to preserving dinosaur bones. But that's not why they're
put on display, and people ogle them essentially as curiosities, as wonders.
Maybe the same feeling a medieval pilgrim had when he got to look at a skull
that was supposed to have actually been the skull of John the Baptist.
The Met, incidentally, has a tooth reliquary. Apparently the tooth of a
female saint was preserved. To display the tooth, a crystal or glass head
was made, and the tooth, now dark brown, was fitted into its proper place.
Yuck. This was noted as a rare kind of reliquary. On the two nail
reliquaries I know of, neither has been called a rare kind of reliquary to my
knowledge. That was my reason for assuming that nails said to have been used
to crucify Christ are more common than, say, preserved teeth of saints.