Why an Embalmed Heart Will Mark Brazil’s 200-Year Independence Celebration

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Brazil brought home a special gift to commemorate 200 years of independence from Portugal: the embalmed heart of Dom Pedro I, the first Emperor of Brazil and a champion of representative rule. The preserved organ is on display for a ceremony today ahead of the milestone; it arrived in Brasilia on Monday after being flown in from Portugal via military plane.

“The heart will be received like a head of state, it will be treated as if Dom Pedro I was still living amongst us,” said Brazil foreign ministry’s chief of protocol Alan Coelho de Séllos. “The national anthem [will be played] and the independence anthem, which by the way was composed by Dom Pedro I, who as well as an emperor was a good musician in his spare time.”
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Reports earlier today said the ceremony will include a cannon salute, a guard of honor, and full military honors.

After the event, the Brazilian public will be able to see it in a foreign ministry building before it is returned to Portugal on Sept. 8. Per his will, Pedro’s heart was kept in Porto—preserved in a formaldehyde glass vase at a church.

The lawmaker Luiz Philippe de Orleans e Bragança, a member of Brazil’s former royal family, said in an interview with radio station Jovem Pan on Monday that, “We lost a little of our reference of Brazil’s founders, what they represented, what they thought, what they hoped for Brazil. It is very important to bring some of that back.”

Some historians have criticized the intentions for showcasing the heart, arguing that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is appealing to nationalism in his campaign for re-election ahead of general elections on Oct. 2. “This is going to be a farce by Bolsonaro, welcoming this heart like a visiting dignitary,” historian Lilia Schwarcz, who has written books on Pedro I and Brazilian independence, told The Guardian. “We should ask ourselves what kind of way this is to think about history—a dead history stuck in time, like the stopped organ of a deceased emperor.”

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Pedro, who lived from 1798 until 1834, also ruled as King Pedro of Portugal. He was part of Portugal’s royal family, which fled to Brazil as Napoleon’s army invaded their country. Pedro resisted efforts from the Portuguese parliament to keep Brazil colonized and return to his home country, instead helping lead Brazil to independence on Sept. 7, 1822, after which he was named Emperor.

Although fondly remembered by Brazilians for his role in liberating the country, his rule turned out to be relatively heavy-handed. He dissolved the Brazilian Assembly as they were in the process of creating a liberal constitution, and exiled radical leader José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, who was also instrumental in helping Brazil achieve independence. Local uprisings eventually led Pedro to renounce his throne and hand it over to his son in 1831. He then returned to Portugal.

Pedro died at the age of 35 from tuberculosis. While his heart resides in Porto, his body remains in São Paulo.

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