Belgian Workers Renovating A Fountain Discovered A Small Box Containing A 180-Year-Old Human Organ

In the heart of the Belgian city of Verviers, an ornate fountain stands out against an unremarkable backdrop of chain stores and cafés. But when workers begin to renovate this beloved landmark, they discover something sinister hidden inside. Concealed within a rusted metal casket they find a gruesome relic — a human organ more than 180 years old.

Located in the province of Liège near the German border, Verviers has long been haunted by a troubled past. But back in the 19th century, there was one man who dedicated himself to improving the prosperity of this historic city. From 1830 until his death nine years later, Pierre David served as mayor, bringing about peace after a tumultuous revolution.

Almost two centuries after David’s death, the people of Verviers still tell stories about the former mayor — and share a gruesome legend about his burial. But the tale remained little more than a myth until August 2020, when renovation work was carried out on the fountain bearing his name.

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While restoring this historic fountain, workers stumbled across a casket hidden within a hollow stone. And thanks to the inscription etched into its side, the truth about its grim contents soon became clear. In a moment, the strange legends surrounding Pierre David were confirmed — and the city uncovered a unique artifact from the past.

Located in the largely French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium, Verviers has a long and fascinating history. Originally settled by the Romans, the area experienced an early taste of conflict in the 4th century, when Germanic tribes began pushing in from the east. Eventually, the Merovingian Franks and their king Clovis succeeded in occupying the land.

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As the Roman Empire fractured, the people of Wallonia developed their own distinct dialects and cultures. Meanwhile, in Verviers, the heavily-forested land attracted the Merovingian kings, who used it as a hunting ground. But after three centuries of their rule they were overthrown by another Frankish dynasty, the Carolingians.

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Under the Carolingians Wallonia was further fragmented and divided, sowing the seeds of political conflict that continues to this day. In Verviers, the population was gradually converted to Christianity due to influence of the monks of a local Abbey. And by the middle of the 11th century, the region had become part of the province of Liège.

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Today, Verviers is known for its textile production, which is believed to have begun as early as the 15th century. Within 100 years it had become the main industry, fuelled by the Eighty Years War that raged in the Netherlands. Over the next century, the population boomed to the point that the town expanded to become a major city.

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As Verviers grew, however, Wallonia continued to experience unrest, particularly during the French Revolution of the late 18th century. Eventually, in 1795, Liège was annexed to France, and the region’s fortunes took a turn for the worse. Driven into poverty, the citizens struggled to survive on the back of a failing industry.

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It was against this bleak backdrop that Pierre David first became mayor of Verviers, elected to the office in 1800. Like many in the city, he was descended from textile workers, although he had worked as a police officer before his foray into politics. However, there was nothing in his background to suggest just how much he would be revered — and the startling legend that would develop after his death.

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At the time, Verviers was under the control of the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, and its citizens were obligated to follow his decrees. But David did not agree with these missives from a remote ruler, leading to his resignation in 1808. Despite no longer being mayor, however, he continued to be actively involved in the city.

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Seven years later, in 1815, the French were defeated in the Battle of Waterloo and Verviers began to prosper once more. Now part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the city became a vital part of Wallonia’s industrial economy. But even this wasn’t to last, and the political unrest of the early 1830s brought yet more uncertainty to the region.

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Along with their Flemish neighbors, the people of Wallonia wanted to secede from the Netherlands and form their own kingdom. Largely Roman Catholic by that point, many of them objected to being ruled by Protestants in the north, including the tyrannical King William I of the Netherlands. Eventually, on 25 August 1830, riots broke out in the city of Brussels, marking the beginning of the Belgian Revolution.

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In Verviers, David supported the southern provinces’ bid for secession and the formation of an independent republic. But when it became apparent that this approach would not succeed, the committed Francophile spoke out in favor of a union with France. Eventually, however, the revolution culminated in the creation of the Kingdom of Belgium in October 1830.

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That same year, David was re-elected mayor of Verviers, inheriting a city still reeling from the trauma of the revolution. And over the next decade, he set about improving conditions for the beleaguered population. Today, he is remembered as the man who finally provided stability after centuries of turmoil and unrest.

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During his first stint as mayor, David had already established a fire brigade in Verviers — considered a trailblazing innovation at the time. And by the end of his tenure, he had also opened a secondary school in the city and pioneered a low-cost housing initiative. Decades later, his achievements are commemorated by the local streets and statues that bear his name.

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Fast forward almost two centuries, and a fountain dedicated to David’s memory stands in the center of Verviers. In fact, it’s one of several water features that are scattered throughout the city. But quite unlike the others, this monument in the area known as Place Verte has been harboring a dark secret all these years.

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At some point, a grim legend grew up surrounding the Fontaine David and the mayor who gave the monument its name. According to the tale, one of David’s organs had been removed from his corpse and entombed within the granite fountain. And although nobody knew exactly where this myth had come from, it has persevered throughout the ages.

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Then, in August 2020, workers in Verviers made an incredible discovery. While carrying out renovation work on the Fontaine David, they stumbled upon a hollow stone. And when they examined it, they found something unexpected inside — a small, rusted casket made from metal and bearing a gruesome inscription.

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According to the inscription, the casket contained Pierre David’s heart, proving that the rumors had been true all along. And even though reports claim that officials have yet to open the container, they are apparently confident about the grim relic lurking inside. So how exactly did the vital organ of a 19th-century mayor end up beneath a fountain in the middle of Verviers?

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David’s tenure as mayor came to an abrupt end in 1839 when he suffered a fatal fall from a hayloft at his Verviers home. At 68 years old, the popular politician was dead. Keen to remember the man who had given so much to their city, some members of the local community hit upon an unusual idea.

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After gaining permission from David’s family, a small team of medical professionals surgically removed the late mayor’s heart from his body. Next, they embalmed the organ, ensuring that it would remain preserved over the years. And after placing it in a container of alcohol, they sealed it inside a metal casket.

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But what would the town of Verviers do with David’s heart now that they had preserved it? According to reports, the city was divided on how best to commemorate the beloved official. And while the debate continued, the late mayor’s organ was allegedly kept in storage at Verviers’ town hall.

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At some point, it seems, the community decided that a specially designed water feature would be the best way to remember David in the years to come. But it took longer than they expected — more than four decades — to come up with the funds. Eventually, in 1883, the Fontaine David was inaugurated in Place Verte, a square in the center of the city.

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Carved from red granite, the fountain is covered in ornate decorations including a bronze bust of the former mayor. And during its inauguration, officials added a grim finishing touch to the eye-catching memorial. Inside a hollow stone, they stashed the metal casket containing the preserved heart of David himself.

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As the years passed, the story of Fontaine David and its hidden heart morphed from historical fact into legend. And for more than 100 years, it remained a tale told only in whispers and half-truths. But when workers eventually stumbled upon the relic in 2020 they were able to confirm what some had suspected all along.

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As part of Verviers’ “ville conviviale” [friendly city] initiative, the Place Verte, along with a number of other landmarks across Verviers, was undergoing extensive renovation. And as the Fontaine David takes center stage in the square, its restoration had become a key part of the process. Beginning in May 2020 workers began removing and replacing each individual stone — not realizing that one contained a gruesome secret.

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“A legend thus becomes reality,” Maxime Degey, the Verviers Alderman for Public Works, told the Belgian television station RTBF. “The box was in the upper part of the fountain, very close to the bust of Pierre David, behind a stone that we had removed as part of the renovation of the fountain.” But what state was the relic in after so many years hidden within the memorial?

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According to reports, the casket containing David’s preserved heart had fared surprisingly well over the years. In fact, Degey told RTBF that the artifact was in “impeccable condition.” Although no harm appeared to have been done, however, officials temporarily decided against returning the organ to its place within the Fontaine David.

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Instead, the heart was taken to the city’s Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics, where it formed part of an exhibition dedicated to the former mayor. Alongside the casket, visitors can also see a death mask taken of David soon after his accident, as well as another bust in his likeness.

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Currently, the exhibition also boasts photographs of the Fontaine David taken during its inauguration ceremony and documents relating to the mayor’s time in office. But the star exhibit — the official’s preserved heart — will only be appearing on a temporary basis. At some point during the fall of 2020, the authorities plan to return the organ to its former resting place.

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For those visiting the museum, the sight of David’s heart exhibited far from the rest of his mortal remains might come as something of a shock. But, historically speaking, burials such as these are actually far from rare. In fact, it’s a practice that has its roots in the times of the Crusades, when men often died in foreign lands thousands of miles away from home.

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For practical reasons, men who perished under such circumstances could not have their entire bodies transported across continents. And so, it became common to just send the departed’s heart back home. By the 1100s the practice had become popular with French and English aristocrats.

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Eventually, the concept of heart burial became more of a symbolic, rather than practical, idea. And even though the people who memorialized David in this way were a little late to the party, there are a great number of preserved organs still to be found in the world today. In fact, in some places, the practice has continued well into the 21st century.

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Perhaps the most famous example is that of King Richard I of England — Richard the Lionheart. After dying in battle in 1199, his body was interred at Fontevraud Abbey in France. But before the royal funeral, the monarch’s heart was removed, sealed in a lead box and buried at Notre-Dame in Rouen, some 200 miles away.

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Like David’s, the heart of Richard I languished in obscurity for centuries until it was rediscovered in the 1830s. Interestingly, experts were able to take a closer look at the relic in 2012, learning more about the process that was used to preserve it. Might a similar examination shed more light on Verviers’ own discovery in years to come?

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Another legend apparently confirmed in 1837 was in the English village of Erwarton, once the childhood haunt of Anne Boleyn. When Henry VIII’s tragic second wife was executed in 1536 — so the story goes — her heart was removed and brought to the local church. And 300 years later, workers discovered a hidden casket that appeared to support this theory.

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An even more dramatic tale surrounds Percy Shelley, who died in a boating accident in 1822. According to regulations at the time, his body was cremated on a pyre, although it’s claimed that one part of him would not burn. According to legend, the writer Edward Trelawny reached into the flames and plucked out the poet’s undamaged heart.

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Eventually, Shelley’s heart was given to his widow, Mary, who kept it on her desk inside a silk bag. But not all of history’s preserved organs have wound up in such mundane surroundings. In the Polish city of Warsaw, for example, the heart of the composer Chopin is interred within a crystal urn. And in the village of Stinsford in Dorset, England, a similar relic belonging to the writer Thomas Hardy is buried in a dedicated grave.

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On most occasions, it seems, heart burials were performed in locations that were dear or significant to the deceased. And so, it’s likely that David, who did so much for the city of Verviers, would have been happy to see his vital organ interred in the fountain that bears his name. When it is eventually returned to the monument, it looks set to remain for the foreseeable future — an urban legend brought to life at last.

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