Namur, regular stage of the Spanish Road, has a Cathedral built in the second half of the 17th century at the same location where, in the 16th century, was Saint-Aubain Cathedral, of gothic style, which retains only the tower. This Cathedral keeps a Spanish memory of that time...
In the nave of the old cathedral were given a funeral to John of Austria, whose body was brought here from the nearby village of Bouges, where he died.
John of Austria, the Victor of Lepanto, passed away October 1, 1578. He died of typhus, a fairly ordinary disease at that time for the harsh campaign. As a military officer who is close to the action, he had asked, when reached by death, to be buried next to his father, Charles V, which already rested in the Escorial.
To be able to move him, his body was embalmed in Bouges and his bowels deposited in a vessel. A few days later he was brought to Namur in solemn procession. The corpse, which was covered with armor and the collar of the Golden Fleece, came in a richly decorated coffin. He was first taken to shoulders by Gentile men of trust, then by field masters and officers, finally by soldiers; everyone wanted to have the honor of wearing it and had to form shifts and select soldiers from every unit so all of them could participate in the tribute.
The sad procession came to the Cathedral and the body of John of Austria was there deposited, in the central nave surrounded by a forest of lighted candles. After the funeral, there was deposited until the authorization of Philip II to be transferred to El Escorial arrived.
A hundred soldiers would lead the funeral to Spain, and so had asked permission to the French so that they could cross the neighboring country unmolested and hiding the real reason on request. They wanted to prevent an official transportation because it meant a solemn procession that would have numerous stops which would delay the trip and exposed it to dubious courtesies, receptions, cold and possible friction at a time when relations between the two neighbors was, as on so many occasions, taut.
So, to not answer uncomfortable questions, the corpse of John of Austria was sectioned in three parts, stored in leather bags and carried by soldiers on their horses as personal baggage. On arrival it was carefully managedand the body was prepared in detail for the ceremony and the funeral was held in the presence of the King and the Court with all the pageantry that the occasion demanded. Since then, he rests in El Escorial with his father.
Regarding its bowels, once deposited in a vessel, they stayed in Namur. It was Alexander Farnese who decided to remove the heart and to place it in a ballot box so that it was kept in the Cathedral of Namur. When the new Cathedral was built, the heart of the Prince was deposited behind the main altar, under his original tombstone, which Farnese asked to build. And there it continues to wait for those who know their history and want to honor him.
"The serene Principe Don John of Austria, son of the Emperor Charles V, after defeating the Moorish rebels in Andalusia , put on the run and entirely destroyed the huge Turkish in Patras fleet, died in the prime of his life in Bouges, Being Viceroy in Belgium, in his memory, his beloved uncle Alejandro Farnesio, Prince of Parma and Placencia successor in the Empire by order of Philip, powerful King of Spain, ordered to place the headstone on his Cenotaph. 1578″
“Recuerdos españoles en Flandes”, Antonio Bermejo Herreros
web de la catedral de Namur,