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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Heart of Dom Pedro on Show in Portugal, Then Brazil

Updated: Sep 27, 2023


A queue of hundreds already had lined up at a church in Porto an hour and a half before its doors opened on August 20 to view what few had seen before.

The heart of Dom Pedro I would be on display for the first time in 187 years.

The man was nine when the royal family escaped Portugal for Brazil days just two days before Napoleon's army invaded Lisbon.

The body organ of the “Liberator”, who led Brazil to independence, will continue to be on display at Nossa Senhora da Lapa on August 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. before traveling to Brazil, at the behest of the former Portuguese colony, as part of its bicentennial celebration.

“‘It’s not every day that we have the opportunity to see something like this,’ was heard among people of all ages, Portuguese and foreigners, under an already hot 25 degrees," reported Observador (August 20).


Normally, Dom Pedro’s heart is kept under five locks and keys: the first one opens a metal plate: the second and third unlock a net; the fourth unlocks an urn, and the fifth, a wooden box, according to Aventuras na Historia (August 13).

The leader was a proponent of liberalism, a philosophy based on the rights of the individual, liberty, consent of the governed and equality before the law. He simultaneously denounced the divine right of kings and racism when he said on January 9, 1822:

“It grieves me to see my fellow humans giving a man tributes appropriate for the divinity. I know that my blood is the same color as that of the Negroes,” quoted Neil W. Macaulay Jr., a former lieutenant in Fidel Castro’s army who defected and became an expert on Latin American history, wrote in Dom Pedro: The Struggle for Liberty in Brazil and Portugal, 1798-1834 (1986).

On May 13, 1888, Brazil became the last country in the West to abolish slavery.

The Duke of Bragança, who had renounced two titles, returned to Portugal to fight the six-year Portuguese Civil War (also called the War of the Two Brothers and the Miguelite War) on the side of the liberal constitutionalists and against the conservative absolutionists. The liberals won the war in May 1834.

From September 10, 1834, he was confined to his bed in Queluz Royal Palace, the place of his birth, near Lisbon. While there, he dictated an open letter to the Brazilians in which he again begged for the abolition of slavery, according to Macaulay. Dom Pedro I wrote:

“Slavery is an evil and an attack against the rights and dignity of the human species, but its consequences are less harmful to those who suffer in captivity than to the nation whose laws allow slavery. It is a cancer that devours its morality.”

Two weeks later, Dom Pedro I (October 18, 1798 – September 24, 1834) died of tuberculosis at age 35.


"His tolerance of public criticism and his willingness to relinquish power set Dom Pedro apart from his absolutist predecessors and from the rulers of today’s coercive states, whose lifetime tenure is as secure as that of the kings of old.”


Why was Dom Pedro I’s heart separated from his body?

According to Aventuras na Historia:

“What few know is that Dom Pedro I left in his will, just before he died, that he wanted his heart to remain in the City of Porto, as reported by the newspaper, Opçao, in a 2019 article.

“It was precisely in Porto that the Portuguese lived for 13 months (from July 1832 to August 1833). And there was the stage of the dispute he had with his brother, Dom Miguel I, in the Civil War. So, this affective connection between his last days and the war scene generated in Pedro the desire to leave a part of him, which was linked to the Portuguese city – literally, his heart.

“In 1972, the other parts of the mortal remains of Dom Pedro I were taken to Brazil, and they are in the Ipiranga neighborhood in Sao Paulo. More precisely, in the crypt of the Independence Monument.”

An American born in South Carolina, Macaulay wrote in Dom Pedro: The Struggle for Liberty in Brazil and Portugal, 1798-1834 (1986):

“Criticism of Dom Pedro was freely expressed and often vehement; it prompted him to abdicate two thrones. His tolerance of public criticism and his willingness to relinquish power set Dom Pedro apart from his absolutist predecessors and from the rulers of today’s coercive states, whose lifetime tenure is as secure as that of the kings of old.”

Macaulay said that “successful liberal leaders like Dom Pedro may be honored with an occasional stone or bronze monument . . . but their pictures are not borne in parades of hundreds of thousands of uniformed marchers. (There are) no ‘isms’ attached to their names.”

Since the request for the loan of Dom Pedro I’s heart was made public on May 30, several intellectuals in both Portugal and Brazil have spoken out against it, reported g1 (August 19). For Brazilian archaeologist and historian Valdirene Ambiel, the trip is disrespectful to the memory of Dom Pedro I, and it can be used as political propaganda.

Brazil’s general election is scheduled for October 2 and, if necessary, a second round on October 30. In a bid to hold onto power, President Jair Bolsonaro already has questioned the election results.

Archaeologist Ambiel said:

“Unfortunately, in 1972, when the body of Dom Pedro was transferred to Brazil, it was used in a political way during the military regime. The bicentennial is a very important event but, above all, we Brazilians have to worry about reflecting on our independence. Not that the figure of Dom Pedro has to be forgotten, ever, nor his importance for this country.”

By the early evening of August 20, nearly 2,000 had viewed Dom Pedro I’s heart, reported Jornal de Noticias (August 20).

After the Porto exhibition ends on August 21, the mayor of Porto, Rui Moreira, and the ambassador of Brazil to Portugal, Raimundo Carreiro Silva, will sign the protocol that defines the conditions of the loan and care of the heart, reported Diario de Noticias (August 20).

The heart will cross the Atlantic Ocean in a pressurized environment to be present at the celebrations of the bicentennial of the independence of Brazil (September 7).

It will be accompanied by Mayor Rui Moreira with the support of the Brazilian Air Force.

Dom Pedro I’s heart is scheduled to depart at 20 minutes after midnight and arrive on August 22 at 9:30 a.m. (1:30 p.m., Lisbon time) at an air base in the capital, Brasilia, where it will be received with military honors. From there, the relic is scheduled to go to the Itamaraty Palace, also in Brasilia. On August 23, the heart is scheduled to leave at 4 p.m. to attend a 5 p.m. ceremony at Brasilia’s Planalto Palace, where President Jair Bolsonaro is expected to be present.

After the ceremony, the heart is scheduled to return to the Itamaraty Palace, where it will be presented to the diplomatic corps. It will be on “controlled” exhibition until the independence celebrations on September 7.

On September 9, the heart of Dom Pedro I is scheduled to return to Porto. Again, it will be on display on September 10 and 11 before being placed back under lock and key, reported Diario de Noticias.

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