The Habsburg crypt

You are here for the tour? Permit me to guide you.

0968 crowned skeletonKarl is the name … or was … Kaiser Karl VI … Full name Carolus Franciscus Josephus Wenceslaus Balthasar Johannes Antonius Ignatius von Habsburg (please do not spell with “p”) … “Your Majesty” is fine … When alive I was known (but not so much in English) as

Charles, by the grace of God elected Holy Roman Emperor, forever August; King in Germany, of Castile, Aragon, Leon, both Sicilies, Jerusalem, Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Rama, Serbia, Galitia, Lodomeria, Cumania, Navarra, Grenada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Majorca, Sevilla, Sardinia, Cordova, Corsica, Murcia, Jaen, the Algarve, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, the islands of India and Mainland of the Ocean sea; Archduke of Austria; Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Milan, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Limburg, Luxemburg, Gelderland, Württemberg, the Upper and Lower Silesia, Calabria, Athens and Neopatria; Prince of Swabia, Catalonia, Asturia; Margrave of the Holy Roman Empire, of Burgau, Moravia, the Upper and Lower Lusatia; Princely Count of Habsburg, Flanders, Tyrol, Ferrette, Kyburg, Gorizia, Artois; Landgrave of Alsace; Margrave of Oristano; Count of Goceano, Namur, Roussillon, Cerdagne; Lord of the Wendish March, Pordenone, Biscay, Molina, Salins, Tripoli and Mechelen; etc.

“Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor,” Wikipedia (modified)

The family holdings reached their greatest extent during my tenure. Here I am wearing the regalia of the Order of the Golden Fleece:

Emp Karl VI lo

“Portrait of Emperor Charles VI (1685-1740)” Attributed to Martin van Meytens (1695–1770); oil on canvas, 95 × 75 cm (37.4 × 29.5 in). Photographed by  Bruun Rasmussen. Wikimedia Commons.

But to start at the beginning …

Previous to the Kaisergrüft (1617), the permanent addresses of Habsburg archdukes, kings and emperors were scattered far and wide. Frederick V (died in 1493) is buried in Stefansdom, St. Stephen’s Cathedral;  Maximilian I (d. 1519) went west to Innsbruck; Ferdinand I (d. 1564) is at St. Vitus’s Cathedral in Prague.

In 1617 the Capuchin Church and Monastery was established by the Kaiserina Anna, wife of Kaiser Mathias, “to provide hereditary burial sites for herself and her spouse.” The crypt was originally just them.

0949 Mathias n Anna

Lately it’s getting pretty crowded in here, what with “The bones of 145 Habsburg royalty, plus urns containing the hearts or cremated remains of four others” (“Imperial Crypt,” Wikipedia). The sarcophagi of twelve emperors and eighteen empresses. Those numbers are out of date: the bones of 146 Habsburgs; nineteen empresses.

What’s that about urns of hearts? Habsburgs observe a curious custom of having the hearts and entrails separated from the remains of the deceased. In many cases the three portions are interred in different places. Most of the hearts go to the Hertzgrüft in the San Loreto chapel of the Church of St. Augustine. Entrails are in Stefansdom. But why? …

For the imperial family, it was a matter of perpetuating the memory of the dead among the living. A religious order which was close to the imperial family was to be honoured and the prestige of a particular church increased through its association with princes of the royal blood.

The practice seems to have “brought about an unusual flowering of baroque tombstone sculpture” (Vienna: Art and Architecture, p. 96). Some of the sarcophagi were made by the finest artists in bronze and pewter. One of them is truly staggering in scope and execution.

The layout:

Kaisergruft layout

Here’s a run-down of the descendency from Mathias and Anne down:

0946 hi

The chart is also out of date; the latest entombment was in 2011 …

0998 Otto0996

Watched the ceremony of Otto’s entrance to the Kaisergruft on YouTube. Here’s a translation of the dialogue:

A traditional ceremony during the funeral is when the procession of mourners arrives at the gates of the Capuchin Church, under which the Imperial Crypt lies, and the Herald knocks on the door. A Capuchin then asks, “Who demands entry?”
Ulrich-Walter Lipp, a friend of the family, was chosen to be the Herald in 2011. Otto was first introduced as “Otto of Austria; former Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary; Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia, of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodomeria, and Illyria; Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow; Duke of Lorraine, of Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Bukowina; Grand Prince of Transylvania, Margrave of Moravia; Duke of Silesia, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Guastalla, Auschwitz and Zator, Teschen, Friuli, Dubrovnik and Zadar; Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca; Prince of Trent and Brixen; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and Istria; Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenburg etc.; Lord of Trieste, Kotor and the Windic March, Grand Voivod of the Voivodeship of Serbia etc. etc.”

Sounds familiar.

The response from behind the door: “We don’t know him.”
The second time he was introduced as “Dr. Otto von Habsburg” and a number of his civic achievements, notably as President of the Paneuropean Union and Member of the European Parliament, mentioned.

Same response — don’t know him.

The third time he was introduced as “Otto, a mortal, sinful human being.”
The Capuchin opening the gates, finally exclaiming “So he may come in,” was Father Gottfried Undesser, the custodian of the Imperial Crypt, born in 1933 and a Capuchin since 1951 …

“Death and funeral of Otto von Habsburg,” Wikipedia

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves … Most of the Habsburg coffins contain the remains of dukelings and duchessettes and are relatively simple affairs:

 0950  0951 Maria Theresa

0952   0953 6 kids

 0954  0955 Ferdinand III

0956 0957 Leopold Joseph

0958 0959 Marie Amalie


On and on until we come to this guy, my bro:

0961  0965 K Joseph I

Now we’re getting fancy:

0962 0963 0964

Here is my own modest =ahem= construction, made of pewter, you know:

 09670971 K Karl VI

And my wife’s:

09720975 Elisabeth Christine

0973 0974 0976

Now we come to the biggie — Maria-Theresia, our daughter, Kaiserina — that rarest thing, a woman ruling the Habsburg empire, by express dictum (just using my powers to protect the family holdings). For forty years (1740-80) Maria Theresia ruled Austria, Hungary and Bohemia. Her husband Franz sloughed off the mortal coil in 1765.

Maria Thesia — get this — had one of the leading sculptors of the time create bronze statues of her and her husband awakening on the Day of Judgement as if seeing each other for the first time in ages …


The gigantic sarcophagus, viewed from the entrance to the room, with the tomb of their son Kaiser Joseph II in front:


Another angle


The widow Maria-Theresia attended mass every day in front of the sarcophagus.

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