Tag Archives: Habsburg burial ceremony

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.

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

An Imperial Last Stop


Since about 1633, members of the Habsburg dynasty have enjoyed a rare privilege: their own private burial vault under the Capuchin Church in Vienna.  It’s right in the middle of the city. Someday maybe I’ll pay a few Euros and descend into the vault, but so far I get creeped out every time I consider doing it. The vault is really a series of underground rooms, some of them domed so that daylight enters. About 145 Habsburgs rest there in their elaborate tombs, and some Habsburgs are still eligible even though the monarchy is long gone.  The most recent burial was in 2011. I think the statue outside is St. Peter, very appropriate for the royal pearly gates.


In an age when common people (and geniuses like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) were usually buried in unmarked mass graves, the Habsburgs enjoyed their privilege.  It would not do to flaunt the luxury of a grand burial vault, though.

Early on, a Habsburg PR person came up with a brilliant idea: a ceremony of regal humility that precedes each burial.  The royal procession arrives at the church door and an official knocks–with a special regal staff, of course.  Crowds of commoners outside listen breathlessly to the ritual. A waiting monk inside the door calls out, “Who is there?” The official recites all the titles of the deceased–and with the Habsburgs, it was always a long and impressive list. The waiting monk answers, mournfully, “We do not know him.”  The official knocks again.  The monk asks, “Who is there?” The official recites an abbreviated list of titles.  Again, the waiting monk replies, “We do not know him.”  FInally, after the third knock on the door, the official says, “Here is (insert name), a poor sinner.”  The door swings open and the procession enters.



In a previous post, “A Tragic Crown Prince,” I wrote about Rudolf, the frustrated son of Emperor Franz Joseph.   This young man could see that change was in the air, and tried his best, in his muddled way, to convince his father to go with the flow in order to hang on to power.  Franz Joseph would have none of it.  Rudolf committed suicide, along with his mistress, rather than live out his life in the gilded cage of the monarchy that was soon to be swept away by sweeping social change. That post is at https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/02/07/a-tragic-crown-prince/. A favorite movie of mine–I guess it’s a guilty pleasure–begins and ends with the Capuchin Church ceremony for poor Rudolf, with his heartbroken but stoic father, Emperor Franz Joseph, patiently waiting to enter the church. Those knocks on the massive church door get me every time.

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