Kapuzinergruft - The Imperial crypt Vienna

The Kapuzinergruft ("Capuchins′ Tomb") is the traditional tomb of the Habsburg family - including the line of Habsburg-Lorraine. The tomb is located under the Kapuzinerkirche on the Neuer Markt Square and ranks among Vienna′s most popular sightseeing attractions. It is also a metaphorical motive in Joseph Roth′s epic novel "Kapuzinergruft" ("The Emperor′s Tomb"), which deals with the death of the Habsburg Empire.

Rests in the Kapuzinergruft: Empress Maria Theresia, Mother of the Nation.

The Kapuzinergruft was founded through a will by Empress Anna in 1618. The construction started in 1922 and took 11 years. After it was finished, the remains of Empress Anna and her husband Emperor Matthias were taken to the tomb, which is under the guard of Capuchin Monks.

The currently last Habsburg to be buried there was a Habsburg through marriage: Zita of Bourbon-Parma, the last Empress of Austria, who died in 1989. The original tomb of Anna was significantly extended under the rule of Emperor Ferdinand III, whereby it became something like a family grave of the Habsburgs. Altogether, the Kapuzinergruft was extended eight times.

Maria Theresia's son, Joseph II - another resident of the Kapuzinergruft.

The current residents include 12 Emperors, 19 Empresses and a vast number of lower-ranking Habsburgs. The only body of person that was not a Habsburg is Countess Fuchs-Mollard, a nanny of Empress Maria Theresia. In total, there are 138 people and four heart urns in the tomb.

The artistically most remarkable parts are the Karlsgruft, which was built under the rule of Emperor Karl VI by Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt around 1720; and the Maria-Theresiengruft from 1758, designed by Jean Nicolas Jadot de Ville-Issey and Nikolaus Pacassi in elaborate Rococo. The latter one includes the graves of Empress Maria Theresia and her husband Emperor Franz I Stephan in a twin-set designed by Balthasar Ferdinand Moll. Another noteworthy grave is the one of her son Emperor Joseph II.

Rites & Ceremonies of Habsburg Funerals

For a long time, it was the custom to bury the body, the heart and the intestines of the Habsburgs separately: The body in a coffin in the Kapuzinergruft; the heart in an urn in the Herzgrüftl in the Augustinerkirche Church of the Hofburg; and the intestines in the catacombs of St. Stephen′s Cathedral. The last Habsburg undergoing this somewhat macabre dissection was Archduke Franz Karl, the father of Emperor Franz Joseph I. However, the heart of Empress Zita is buried in Switzerland, so the custom has not come to a total halt.

The first Emperor of Austria, Franz I.

One custom that I find very nice is a ceremony that was traditionally performed during a funeral. When the procession of mourners arrived at the gates of the Kapuzinergruft, the herald advancing the coffin bearers would knock at the door. A Capuchin would ask: "Who demands entry?" and the herald would respond with the complete name and list of titles of the Habsburg who had died. The Capuchin would respond: "I don′t know this person!" (or something along these lines). So the herald would knock a second time and for the second time the Capuchin would ask: "Who demands entry?"

The herald would recite the typically long list of names and titles for a second time, this time using the abbreviations. And again, the Capuchin would respond: "I don′t know this person." Finally, the herald would knock for the third time and once the Capuchin had asked "Who demands entry", he would respond with only the name of the dead Habsburg and say: "A sinful, mortal human being." With no comment, the Capuchin would open the gate to allow entry to another dead Habsburg.

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Further Reading

Official website of the Vienna Tourist Information

Official Website of the Kapuzinergruft

Wikipedia on the Kapuzinergruft