Edinburgh has two football teams – Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian (Hearts for short) and outside St. Giles’ Cathedral there is a heart of stone set into the pavement known as the Heart of Midlothian.
If you happen to be walking past and catch somebody spitting on it don’t assume that it’s a Hibernian (Hibs) fan venting his feelings because the custom of spitting on this spot goes back a long time.
Not to be confused with today’s council area of the same name, Edinburgh used to be at the heart of the old historic county of Midlothian, and the area around St. Giles was where the Scottish parliament and administrative offices were located. The original Tolbooth was also situated here which during its time was a court house, prison and place of execution. It was demolished in 1817 but had stood for over 400 years.
The position of the heart is where the entrance to the prison would have been and where the executions took place, and so it’s not difficult to see where the connection between the heart and the custom of spitting on it comes from.
These days it’s said that the tradition continues more for good luck than anything else. Whether that would apply to a Glasgow Rangers or Celtic fan I’m not so sure.