Friday, June 11, 2010

Medieval Teen Saint died of cardiac embolism, study says

Scholars researching the heart of a 13th century Italian saint believe that she died of a cardiac embolism. Their study, "The Heart of Santa Rosa" was published online today by The Lancet, deals with Saint Rose of Viterbo, who died in 1252.

As a young child Saint Rose had taken up Franciscan values and began preaching penance in her home town of Viterbo. According to medieval chroniclers, she prophesied the death of Emperor Frederick II and stood for three hours in the flames of a burning pyre in order to disprove the powers of a supposed sorceress. She died on March 6, 1252 and her bodied was preserved in the Santa Rosa monastery in Viterbo. Previous research determined that she was 18 or 19 when she died.

The researchers, led by Professor Ruggero D'Anastasio of G. d'Annunzio University, were able to obtain Rose's heart, which had been mummified and kept in a reliquary. After taking x-rays of the heart, the researchers found that "the low intensity radiograph shows a right deviation of the ventricular septum and the presence of a mass, probably a thrombus, between the apex of the left ventricle and the entry of the diverticulum. Ventricular diverticulum is one of the most common heart defects described in patients with Cantrell’s syndrome and is frequently associated with development of thrombus and subsequent embolisation."

Cantrell's syndrome is a rare heart disorder. Frank Ruehli of the University of Zurich told the Associated Press that Saint Rose may have had an enlarged heart or that people could see it pumping slightly visible beneath the skin. "People might have been aware of her being special in a medical sense," he added.

It was previously thought that Saint Rose died of tuberculosis, but the researchers found no evidence of this. Professor D'Anastasio said to the BBC that "In the future we hope to analyse the heart with more modern technologies."

Sources: The Lancet, AP, BBC