Masonic funerals were, at one time, very common in North America, with a chapel service involving brethren dropping a sprig of acacia onto a coffin, and words at the cemetery during the burial. You still hear of it happening today. Some Grand Lodges also have a memorial service.
But one unique burial happened in California in 1894. The background is so interesting and probably not well known, so what follows is a wire service account at the time it happened:
WRAPPED IN TWO FLAGS
The Heart of Don Ygnacio Herrera y Cairo Re-Interred.
Oakland, Cal., June 23.— A strange incident in the history of Freemasonry, unprecedented in this country, took place at Mountain View cemetery to-day. It was the burial with Masonic rites of the heart of Ygnacio Herrera y Cairo, one of the early governors of Mexico, and a Mason whom the members of the order call a martyr to their cause. The heart has been for a year deposited in a casket in the Masonic temple of Oakland, it having been brought from Mexico to Gethsemane chapel No. 7 [sic] of the Rosa Croix. At the burial place in Mountain View cemetery the foundation stone of a monument was laid by the grand lodge of Masons of the state.
The casket inclosing the heart was wrapped in the two silken flags, one an American and the other a Mexican, and deposited under the foundation stone. Masons from all over the coast were in attendance. Several Mexicans were present.
Shortly after the declaration of Mexico’s independence, Cairo became identified with the Masons and became governor of Hidalgo, Mexico. While in this position he was informed of a plot against the government by the Carmelites. He ordered the plotters thrown into prison and they were punished. For this action on his part it is said he became a marked man. In the course of time Cairo was retired from the governorship and went to live on a farm to pass a quiet life. Soon afterward he was shot to death by Manuel Pelago. Cairo said that his Masonic faith had hastened him to his doom. Before dying he asked one of his brother Masons to take his heart after his death and give it to some chapter of the Rosa Croix for burial. The heart has been since very carefully guarded.
The Los Angeles Times of the same date reported the heart had been deposited in the casket in the walls of Masonic Temple in Oakland on April 24, 1893 “in a place made known only to Masons.” The Times spells Cairo’s last name as “Carrero.”
The clipping you see to the right is from the Evening Argus of Owosso, Michigan, dated October 17, 1893, giving some background prior to the burial the following year.
The heart is only found in American-based ceremonies in connection with the Tyler’s sword and Thomas Webb states that it “demonstrates that justice will, sooner or later, overtake us.” But it has a couple of meanings in popular culture that should apply to Masons as well.
It a symbol used by the world at large to indicate love, and certainly would be suitably emblematic to remind Masons of brotherly love and charity to all. And it is also a symbol of courage (“the heart of a lion”). The opening prayer in the Order of DeMolay’s installation ceremony contains a request of the Almighty to give the incoming leader of the Chapter “the courage to do that which is right.” Those words contain a message as well to all Masons, who can think back to their Third Degree for a concrete example.
Some day, our hearts, too, will be buried, though likely in not so dramatic a fashion as you’ve read about here. Shouldn’t we use them for the greater good while we can?