Like a religious relic, the heart of composer Frederic Chopin rests in a Warsaw church, untouched since it was preserved in alcohol after his death in 1849 at age 39.
And that’s how the Polish government wants to keep it.
Scientists want to remove the heart for DNA tests to see if Chopin actually died from cystic fibrosis and not tuberculosis as his death certificate stated. But the government says that’s not a good reason to disturb the remains of a revered native son.
The heart lies in a jar sealed inside a pillar at Warsaw’s Holy Cross Church.
Chopin died in France, where his body is buried, but he asked that his heart be sent to his homeland.
Cystic fibrosis, an incurable genetic disease and the scientists who want to examine the heart say many of Chopin’s symptoms match that illness, including respiratory infections, recurrent fevers, delayed puberty and infertility.
A spokeswoman for the Culture Ministry, Iwona Radziszewska, said on Thursday that ministry officials consulted experts and decided that “this was neither the time to give approval, nor was it justified by the potential knowledge to be gained.”
One of the experts consulted, the head of the National Frederic Chopin Institute in Warsaw, Grzegorz Michalski, argued the scientists failed to demonstrate that they had sufficient expertise carrying out such DNA tests or that the chances of success were high.
One of the scientists seeking to do the tests, geneticist Michal Witt, acknowledged that DNA testing might not prove whether Chopin was afflicted with cystic fibrosis or not.
Part of the uncertainty, he said, comes from not knowing what condition the heart is in after so many years in alcohol.