Yesterday the funeral of Otto von Habsburg, the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, took place in Vienna and for one day it seemed as if the Habsburg empire had returned. Indeed there were only a few things which gave away the fact that Austria is in fact a republic and the deceased was buried as if he were still Crown Prince.
This might seem quite ironic given how uneasy the relations between the republic and the former dynasty have often been, but they have been easened in recent years and the country’s history and heritage are of course highly evident in its capital. The republic also joined in paying the former Crown Prince almost every possible honour on the day of his funeral.
The funeral mass took place in the mighty St Stephan’s Cathedral, where the chief mourners were Archduke Karl, the deceased’s eldest son and now head of the house, his wife Francesca (from whom he is separated), their children Ferdinand Zvonimir, Eleonore and Gloria, Archduke Georg, the deceased’s youngest son, his wife Eilika and their children, Otto von Habsburg’s sisters-in-law Yolande and Anna Gabriele, and his five daughters Andrea, Monika, Michaela, Gabriela and Walburga.
His surviving brother, 95-year-old Archduke Felix, was not strong enough to travel from his home Mexico, but the Habsburgs were nevertheless out in force - indeed it was hard to tell who there were more of, priests or Habsburgs.
President Heinz Fischer and his wife Margit showed their respect by bowing to the coffin as they arrived. Also present were the present Chancellor and other members of the government as well as previous chancellors.
From the reigning royal houses came King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, Sovereign Prince Hans Adam II and Princess Marie of Liechtenstein, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, Princess Cristina of Spain, Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz of Belgium, Princess Michael of the United Kingdom, and Prince Hassan and Princess Sarvath of Jordan.
They were joined by several members of non-reigning royal families: the ex-King of Romania, the ex-King of the Bulgarians, the Prince of Naples, the Margrave and Margravine of Baden, Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia and Princess Sophie of Isenburg, Prince Leopold of Bavaria, the Duke of Braganza, the Duke and Duchess of Parma, Prince Jaime of Bourbon-Parma, Princess Maria Teresa of Bourbon-Parma, and probably some more who I missed.
Among the foreign dignitaries present were also President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, Speaker Jerzy Buszek of the European Parliament, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of Macedonia, and the Czech Foreign Minister, Prince Karel of Schwarzenberg.
The requiem was celebrated by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna (himself a minor “royal”, belonging to the mediatised house of Schönborn), who also represented Pope Benedict XVI.
As one must expect in Vienna there was a lot of well-performed music during the service, most of it composed by Michael Haydn, and there was a moving moment as the imperial standard was lowered at the head of the coffin and the congregation sang the first verse of Joseph Haydn’s imperial hymn:
Gott erhalte, Gott beschütze
Unsern Kaiser, unser Land!
Mächtig durch des Glaubens Stütze,
Führt er uns mit weiser Hand!
Laßt uns seiner Väter Krone
Schirmen wider jeden Feind!
|: Innig bleibt mit Habsburgs Throne
Österreichs Geschick vereint! :|
The Queen of Sweden and the Sovereign Prince of Liechtenstein were among those who joined in singing the “Kaiserhymne”, while the President of Austria kept his mouth firmly shut.
The most impressive part of the day was however the funeral procession from St Stephan’s Cathedral to the Capuchin Church, which went by way of Am Graben, through the Hofburg, the Ringstrasse to the Opera and then to Neuer Markt. While the processional route was 2.4 kilometres long, the actual procession was itself 1,200 metres long and it was a spectacle which will probably never be seen again, with its colourful uniforms and banners from all over the former empire. The (republican) Austrian guard led the procession and ahead of the coffin walked the knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece, followed by Otto von Habsburg’s grandson Severin Meister carrying his grandfather’s order.
The funeral guests followed and I particularly liked that so many of the younger relatives let their young children take part in the procession. If they have a sense of history they will in the future be proud that they were once part of the funeral procession of the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, who had himself, in 1916, walked in the funeral procession of Emperor Franz Joseph, who came to the throne in 1848.
The glories of Vienna, bathed in sun, provided for a spectacular setting for what seemed like an extra performance of the Habsburg empire 93 years after it came to an end. Another moving moment occured as the coffin crossed Heroes’ Square in front of the Hofburg and a 21-gun salute was fired.
In Neuer Markt (the New Market) the procession formed up in front of the Capuchin Church to watch the so-called knocking ceremony, which easily appears to be an ancient imperial ritual but was in fact introduced as late as 1989 for the funeral of ex-Empress Zita. It was supposedly Otto von Habsburg’s own idea, as he wanted all the titles once held by his mother to be read out.
Ulrich-Walter Lipp, acting as master of ceremonies, knocked three times on the door to the church. At the first knock Father Gottfried, the Capuchin monk who is custodian of the Imperial Vault, called out: “Wer begehrt Einlass?” (“Who requests entry?”)
Mr Lipp responded by giving all the imperial titles once held by the deceased, perhaps yelling a bit too loudly for the occasion: “Otto von Österreich, einst Kronprinz von Österreich-Ungarn, königlicher Prinz von Ungarn und Böhmen, von Dalmatien, Kroatien, Slawonien, Galizien, Lodomerien und Illyrien, Großherzog von Toskana und Krakau, Herzog von Lothringen, von Salzburg, Steyr, Kärnten, Krain und der Bukowina, Großfürst von Siebenbürgen, Markgraf von Mähren, Herzog von Ober- und Niederschlesien, von Modena, Parma, Piacenza und Guastalla, von Auschwitz und Zator, von Teschen, Friaul, Ragusa und Zara, gefürsteter Graf von Habsburg und Tirol, von Kyburg, Görz und Gradisca, Fürst von Trient und Brixen, Markgraf von Ober- und Niederlausitz und in Istrien, Graf von Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenberg etc., Herr von Triest, von Cattaro und auf der Windischen Mark, Großwojwode der Wojwodschaft Serbien etc., etc.” “Wir kennen ihn nicht” (“We know him not”), the monk replied.
Then Mr Lipp knocked a second time and the monk called again: “Wer begehrt Einlass?” “Dr. Otto von Habsburg, Präsident und Ehrenpräsident der Paneuropa-Union, Mitglied und Alterspräsident des Europäischen Parlamentes, Ehrendoktor zahlreicher Universitäten und Ehrenbürger vieler Gemeinden in Mitteleuropa, Mitglied ehrwürdiger Akademien und Institute, Träger hoher und höchster staatlicher und kirchlicher Auszeichnungen, Orden und Ehrungen, die ihm verliehen wurden in Anerkennung seines jahrzehntelangen Kampfes für die Freiheit der Völker, für Recht und Gerechtigkei”.
“Wir kennen ihn nicht”.
A third knock followed. “Wer begehrt Einlass?” “Otto, ein sterblicher, sündiger Mensch” (“Otto, a mortal, sinful human being”). “So komme er herein” (“So come here in”), the custodian replied and the gates to the church were opened.
With that ended the official part of this final imperial pageantry and Otto von Habsburg was laid to rest in a private ceremony.
It was a magnificent send-off for a great man and Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF), which broadcast the whole funeral live, should also be complimented for producing an absolutely perfect broadcast, complete with beautiful images from the Cathedral, knowledgeable commentators (who also mostly knew when to be silent) and an excellent mix of historical and live images during the procession.
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