The Funeral Cult of the Habsburgs

Der begraebniskult der habsburger

Where was what part of the Habsburgs buried? Why was this done and until when was this ritual practiced? What were the exceptions?

In Vienna there was a custom of separate burial for monarchs, princes, dukes and higher ranking nobles . That is why the bodies of the Habsburgs are in the Capuchin crypt , the entrails in the crypt of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the hearts in the “Herzlgruft” in the Augustinian Church.

There is lively debate among historians as to what exactly this ritual refers to? Possibly, the ancient Egyptian pharaohs were already the model. It also had practical reasons , because the corpse could be better preserved this way, especially for longer transfers and laying out. Political backgrounds tend to be excluded.

Separate entombment was practiced long before the Habsburgs. Especially during the Crusades, when many crusaders died far from home, it was customary to remove their organs, boil the corpse with red wine, in order to better survive the long return journey. Already Barbararossa (1122-1190) and Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199) had their organs buried in other places.

This unusual Habsburg protocol was practiced until 1878. The entrails of the dead were removed, wrapped in silk cloths, soaked in spirit, and the containers soldered shut. The heart as the seat of the soul, received a special place in a heart urn.

The founder of this tradition is said to have been Ferdinand III (1608-1657). He wanted the hearts of the Habsburgs to be laid out in the Augustinian Church. His successor, Ferdinand IV, venerated the Madonna of Loreto with her shrine in the Augustinian Church and decreed that his heart be buried there.

Especially in the 16. and 17th c. this custom was very common among the Habsburgs. Later there were many exceptions. Emperor Franz Joseph was strictly against it and his body was completely buried in the Capuchin crypt .

The last emperor, Charles I , who died in exile in Madeira, was also buried there, but his heart is in the Swiss monastery of Muri, together with the heart of his wife Zita. However, her body rests in the Capuchin Crypt and her funeral was considered the last official imperial funeral in 1989.

The son of the two, Otto Habsburg, also lies in the Capuchin tomb, but his heart was buried at his own request in the Hungarian monastery of Pannonhalma. He was raised as a child by the monks of the monastery and had a special bond with Hungary.

Nowadays, this type of burial is generally no longer permitted in Austria. However, exemptions may be requested from the Department of Health.

Time Travel Tip:
Every Sunday after mass you can visit the “Herzerlgruft” in the Augustinerkirche. In a side chapel are the hearts of the Habsburgs in urns.

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