The Habsburg Dynasty had a tradition that was a bit like that of the Pharaohs: After the death of a Habsburg the heart and viscera were removed from the body according to strict ceremony.
Augustinian Church with the Heart Crypt of the Habsburg Dynasty
The sovereign bodies were then embalmed and entombed in the nearby Imperial Crypt. The viscera were laid to rest in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the hearts in the so-called “Heart Crypt” in the Augustinian Church.
The Augustinian Church was one of the important stations in the life of every member of the House of Habsburg. It is here where they were baptized and where they married – and to where they would forever after consign their hearts.
54 Habsburgian hearts are forever safeguarded in silver urns here in the Augustinian Church.
The Habsburgs are still today deeply connected to the Augustinian Church: the last architectural addition to date occurred as recently as 2004: A new side altar dedicated to the beatified Emperor Charles I, the last emperor of Austria.
The feast day of the “Blessed Emperor” is on October 21, the day of his wedding to Empress Zita:
St. Stephen’s Cathedral with the Viscera Crypt
St. Stephen’s Cathedral was a Romanesque basilica before Rudolf IV, the first Habsburg ruler born in Austria, commissioned the extensive expansion of the basilica in Gothic style.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna (Photo: Maximilian Just)
Next to the North Tower elevator are the stairs leading down into the catacombs. The catacombs house the Bishops’ Crypt, as well as the urns in which, from 1564 to 1878, the viscera of the members of the House of Habsburg were entombed.
Imperial Crypt for the Body
The bodies of the Habsburgs have always been buried in the Imperial Crypt.
And although the dynasty already lost its worldly power in Austria in 1918, to this day when a member of the Habsburg-Lorraine family passes away, the one-of-a-kind “admission ceremony for burial” is carried out. This admission ceremony takes place in front of the crypt.
Zita, the last Austrian empress of the Habsburg dynasty was buried in the Imperial Crypt in 1989. But her heart was sent to a monastery in Muri, Switzerland, where it now rests.
The embellishment of the tombs mirrors the characteristics of each respective epoch even long after death: Thus the mighty, baroque double tomb of Maria Theresa and her spouse is a true contrast to the ascetic tomb of her son Joseph II – a staunch supporter of Enlightenment.
In the very back part of the crypt the last Habsburg emperor to be entombed here, Franz Joseph I, lies next to his murdered wife Elisabeth – Sisi / Sissi and their son Crown Prince Rudolf who committed suicide.
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