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.
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,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!