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28.10.12

Habsburgs Rest in Pieces

Monarchs and other rulers usually want to make themselves remembered, one way or another. Pyramids, anyone? I'm particularly fond of the way the Habsburg dynasty (the Austrian emperor line, the House of Habsburg-Lorraine) has immortalised themselves by even harnessing the Viennese urban planning into action. When a member of the Habsburg family dies, he or she becomes embalmed, almost like the ancient upper-class Egyptians. The body is prepared for the sarcophagus, for the post-funeral display, whereas the heart and the rest of the entrails are preserved in separate metal urns - silver for the heart and copper for intestines and other organs. And like in a proper canonising process, people are encouraged to visit the crypts where the different body parts are laid to rest.

The Habsburg royalty are entombed in the very centre of Vienna, of course, but every family member is ingeniously separated in three different places, so there will be more burial sites for the royal subjects to visit. The hearts can be found in the Herzgruft (Heart Crypt) in the Augustinian Church. The guts are displayed in the Herzogsgruft (Ducal Crypt), situated in the catacombs of Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral), the most ostentatious landmark in Vienna. The embalmed bodies of the royalty lay in their sarcophagi in Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt) below the Capuchin church. The guide showing the Ducal crypt told that despite the double sealing of the urns one of them started leaking some time ago, filling the catacombs with horrible deathly smell of rotting innards.

In the Imperial Crypt you can witness the ornament race on the sarcophagi. The oldest are simple metal coffins, but by walking deeper in the crypt the decorations of the newer caskets grow in spectacular proportions. The further you go the more ornaments, crowned Death's heads, veiled semi-nude women and cherubs there are on the sarcophagi. The winner is undoubtedly the stupendous double tomb of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis I Stephen, which can also be seen in the video below. Pay attention to the weird knight(?) on the side that looks like a wooden pole is wearing an armour. Towards the end of the crypt the newest tombs like the are again more discreet, like in the vault of beloved couple Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Sissi and their son Rudolf.

In the end of the video below the alarm goes off when I'm shooting the death's head ornament from close distance. I'm not sure if it was me setting it off...

2 comments:

Lance said...

This is really interesting. I'm off to Vienna tomorrow and will have to check it out!

Divine said...

Hei Lance, if you read this before your trip and have time/possibility, go check also the Pathologic-anatomical Museum in Narrenturm. Bizarre and really worth seeing! I've meant to blog about it, but haven't got arount to actually do it yet.