Page 15, 14th January 1938

14th January 1938
Page 15
Page 15, 14th January 1938 — Where Habsburgs Lie

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Locations: Geneva, Vienna


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Where Habsburgs Lie


The Empress Elizabeth, whose centenary has lately been commemorated, was not a popular figure during her lifetime, because of tier love of retirement, but she has since taken her place among the romantic personalities of history and has become a popular subject with biographers. In the last few years, which have seen the disclosure of many secrets, much has been written about her; and in Vienna a play has been running all the winter which tells the story of her life—how she came to Vienna as a young bride, up till the fatal moment in Geneva when an assassin struck her down for no apparent reason except that he had come to Switzerland to kill someone of royal blood. Her life had been spent in travelling and she belongs to no town or country, but Vienna has a prior claim, and her centenary was celebrated there solemnly by a Mass in the former Court church on St. Stephen's Day.

" For Her Late Majesty "

When Francis Joseph's centenary was observed, Austria was still a republic and its policy was anti-Habsburg. No celebration of importance marked the day, and there is still no statue in the capital to the emperor who did more for Vienna than any of his predecessors. But that omission will soon be remedied, because the present Austrian government looks with a friendly eye on the Habsburgs and no objections are raised to demonstrations.

The prime mover behind these demonstrations of Habsburg loyalty is the monarchist party, which wants to sec Archduke Otto on the throne. The monarchists arranged the twenty-fifth birthday celebrations of the Archduke last November, when the largest hall in Vienna was hired for the occasion and members of the former imperial family appeared.

This movement has been in existence since the dissolution of the old monarchy, but it has only been recognised for the last four years. during the Schuschnigg regime. The hundredeth anniversary of the birth of the Empress Elizabeth provided a further occasion for the party to show itself in its true colours, and advertisements were printed announcing " A Mass for her late Majesty."

Of the two Masses offered in memory of the Empress, the first, in the church of the Capuchins, was more in keeping with her character. There were no official delegations, and the people who attended were there out of pure affection for her memory. The church of the Capuchins is the burial church of the Habsburgs, and although Elizabeth wanted to be buried in Corfu, " where," she said, " the waves will watch round my grave " her body had been brought to the family vault in great pomp and laid to rest among the tombs of her husband's ancestors. On that occasion the small church was filled to overflowing with the great ones of the earth, as befitted the funeral of an Austrian empress.

Today, however, Austrian pomp has suffered an eclipse, and the memorial service was open to anyone who wished to come. The priest, attended by two servers, said Mass; there was a little congregational singing, and after the service was over, the wreaths were picked up from the altar steps and a small procession was formed which made its way through the sacristy to the entrance of the vault. The congregation followed. It was the way which all the dead Habsburgs have gone : their last journey.

The vault is visited several times daily by parties of tourists, who are shown the Habsburg tombs—some of those tombs simple, like the coffin of Joseph 1I or Napoleon's son; others ornate, reminding the onlooker of the power which the departed once held We step carefully, as if not to disturb the dead, and come into the new part of the vault, built for the latter-day Habsburgs, where there is a bust of the last Emperor Charles who for the present is buried as an exile, in Madeira. It is one of the great objects of the Monarchists to bring back his body to the vault, when Vienna will see again, perhaps for the last time, all the ceremony attending the burial of an Austrian emperor.

The new part of the crypt is brilliantly lighted and at the far end there are three coffins, one of which is raised higher than the others; that of Francis Joseph. On the right is Crown Prince Rudolph, and on the left Elizabeth. Mother, father, son.

Round Elizabeth's coffin candles are burning and the wreaths are being put in position under the direction of a Capuchin friar. We file round the coffin and look at the long silk streamers attached to the wreaths and bunches of flowers. There is a wreath from Belgium, inscribed with the name "Otto and Zita," On another ribbon is a crown, the word Rex and the initial F. It is from the ex-king of Bulgaria. We are not able to look at every wreath, because the friar asks us to keep moving as there are others coming in.

In the Court Church On the following Sunday the official Mass was offered in the Augustiner Kirche, the Court Church, the scene of many brilliant ceremonies in the past. Expensive tickets were on sale; opera singers had been engaged to sing Mozart's Coronation Mass; and the organ loft had been filled with musicians.

There was a faint echo of past grandeur. The service began with the appearance of banners, with gilded points, approaching from the west end. A procession, headed by four goose-stepping students in gala dress, made its way up the aisle. Behind the students, who carried swords and wore little round caps, were present-day Habsburgs: Archduke Anton and Archduchess Ileana. The Archduchess gave quick bows to the right and left as she came up the aisle, and she and the Archduke sat on two large white chairs which had been placed by the altar rails.

The Church in Austria has been a great ally of the Hahsburgs and this was an occasion when it could put all its pomp at the service of the former imperial house. The Mass was sung by the Bishop Seydl, the former Court Chaplain.

The Church was doing its best to bridge the gap since 1918, but the illusion lasted only so long as one kept one's eyes on the space between the altar rails and the high altar.

Twenty or thirty years ago, at a similar service in the same church, the congregation would have glittered with uniforms and orders: There would have been men in braid and cocked hats, and women in court dress. Many among the congregation for Elizabeth's centenary had known that time and had taken part in its ceremonies; but they had had the misfortune to live into another era. Men had now come to the service in street dress, and the women in snow boots; and the officers present were prevented from showing their uniforms because of the cold. There were no flowers.

At the end of the service the Habsburg national anthem was sung and the students provided a bodyguard for the Archduke and the Archduchess. The congregation hurried out, and the church was left to the piercing cold which came up from the stone floor, reminding one that the ceremony was a requiem not only for a Habsburg empress but for a dynasty.

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