Tag Archives: Augustinian Church Vienna

Maria Christina: She Even Got the Canova!


MariaChristinaCanova The Augustinian Church, adjoining the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, contains one of the saddest and most grandiose memorials I’ve ever seen.  It occupies a huge section of wall space in the family church of the Habsburgs. It was exquisitely sculpted by the great Italian artist Antonio Canova in 1805 and remains one of his most famous works.  A procession of downcast mourners slowly climbs the stairs toward an open doorway with nothing but darkness inside. Gazing into the void of that black space is truly terrifying.



A tearful lion lies beside the doorway, disconsolately resting his mighty chin on his paws.  A handsome male angel leans on the lion’s back, clearly overcome with grief. The whole structure is in gleaming white marble. Canova’s funeral monuments were mostly for Popes and Venetian nobles, plus a small one for the British war hero Horatio Nelson. Most people agree that the monument in the Augustinian Church in Vienna is the grandest and most beautiful of them all.

Maria Christina

Maria Christina

This masterpiece honors a woman who never did much of anything: Archduchess Maria Christina, favorite daughter of Empress Maria Theresa. After her death at age 56, her husband (flush with wealth lavished on the couple by the Empress) commissioned the monument.

Who is buried in Maria Christina’s tomb?  No one.  She is actually buried in the Imperial Crypt along with the rest of the Habsburgs. But apparently her husband, with the blessing of her mother, wanted everyone who attended church at the Augustinian to be reminded of her loss.

I can’t help thinking of Marie Antoinette, the unfortunate younger sister of Maria Christina. After her beheading, she was unceremoniously thrown into a common pit along with other victims of the Terror in Paris.  Reportedly, when Maria Christina heard of her sister’s gruesome death, she remarked, “She never should have married.” Of course Marie Antoinette had nothing to say about whether or whom or when she married, unlike the more fortunate Maria Christina.

Why did Maria Theresa favor one daughter so highly, out of all her 16 children?  Was Maria Christina possibly the most intelligent?  If Maria Christina had been the daughter sent off the France, might she have been intelligent and strong-willed enough to persuade Louis XVI, a bit of a dim bulb, to accept some reforms before mobs marched on Versailles? Failing that, might she have persuaded Louis XVI to decamp to a safe haven until things cooled down at home? As it was, he ignored many chances to escape.  When he finally decided to make a run for it, the carriage he chose  was a huge lumbering vehicle that stuck out like a sore thumb on the rural roadways of France.  The royal family was captured and hauled back to prison in Paris.

A previous post about the Augustinian Church is at:


Previous posts about Marie Antoinette are at:




Maria Theresa was not the most fair or loving mother, but she had her good points.  I wrote about her at:


Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Habsburgs Hatched, Matched and Dispatched



The Augustinian Church adjacent to the Hofburg palace in Vienna is the traditional parish church of the Habsburgs.  It was originally built in the 14th century; the present Gothic interior, elegantly austere, dates from the 18th century.  The church almost seems to be built into the walls of the Hofburg, the winter palace of the Habsburgs, and this is where imperial christenings, weddings and funerals took place. Among the marriages were those of Maria Theresa to Francis of Lorraine in 1736; one of their daughters grew up to be the ill-fated Marie Antoinette.

Portrait by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, Public Domain

Portrait by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, Public Domain



French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte married Archduchess Marie Louise here in 1810, after the love of his life, Empress Josephine, failed to produce an heir. Of course, Napoleon was far too busy conquering every corner of Europe to attend his own wedding. Marie Louise had to stand up with a proxy–one of her brothers, I think. That should have told her something about Napoleon as marriage material, not that she really had any choice in the matter.


Today, one of the great pleasures of visiting Vienna is attending Sunday Mass at the Augustinian Church.  From the choir loft, an orchestra and choir produce sublime music.  It is considered poor form to turn around and watch the musicians during the service, but I’ve seen people discreetly pull mirrors out to get a good view.  When I’ve visited, I’ve arrived about an hour early to wander the church and listen to the rehearsal. The church seems to have absolutely no heating at all. In winter, people bundle up. The entire service is in German, but the point is to soak up the music and the historic atmosphere. Franz Schubert and Anton Bruckner both composed Masses and conducted them in this church.  The illustrious tradition continues.


In a previous post, https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/04/10/an-imperial-last-stop/,  I described Habsburg burials in the Imperial Crypt beneath the Capuchin Church.  Like many royal families, the Habsburgs were fond of leaving a little of themselves in various other places.  There is a room near the altar at the Augustinian Church which contains, neatly shelved, the hearts of any number of Habsburgs, each encased in an engraved silver urn.  A discreet placard outside gives the visitor an idea of the hidden shelves. I noticed for the first time that it’s possible to pay a couple of Euros for a peek at the urns, but I gave that a miss.

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Augustinian Church in Vienna: A Cheerful Resting Place


The Augustinian Church in Vienna is still very much a working church.  When I’m lucky enough to visit in December, I look forward to the little Christmas market held by church ladies (and gentlemen) in the adjoining chapel, which they call the crypt. It has tall windows, so it doesn’t seem very crypt-like.  I don’t think there is an altar, so maybe it is not really a chapel, at least not now.

The center of this cozy room houses the tomb of some notable, not a Habsburg but still important.  I always check his name, and I always forget.  I think he was an illustrious general.


Surrounding his very grand tomb, the church folks set up tables with ornaments and some handcrafted items.  They sell CDs of the many musical performances the church is famous for. They sell coffee, loaves of bread and cookies, too.  There’s nothing like a bake sale to make a tired traveler feel at home.


The occupant of the tomb has his very own permanent mourner to keep him company, a life-sized marble lady standing sadly beside his resting place.  Still, I think this person, whoever he was, must enjoy the seasonal cheer of twinkling lights, glowing candles, cinnamon buns and fresh coffee.  Easter is in Vienna is almost as big a holiday as Christmas.  I imagine the church ladies and gentlemen have a springtime market set up in the chapel right now, selling brightly colored eggs and sprightly tulips.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!