Hapsburg goes to his grave amid Ruritanian pageant

Eulogies for eldest son of Austria's last emperor

By George Jahn
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:36

Lederhosen-clad Tyrollean guardsmen hoisted the coffin of Archduke Otto von Habsburg on to their shoulders yesterday, and laid the eldest son of Austria's last emperor to rest in a pomp-filled ceremony evocative of the country's past grandeur when it ruled over much of Europe.

Austria shed its imperial past after it lost the First World War, but for six hours the pageantry, colour and ceremony accompanying the burial turned downtown Vienna into the imperial city it once was. The Archduke, who died on 4 July aged 98, was banished with the rest of his family after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918. The family then scattered across Europe. To the end, Otto von Habsburg never formally renounced the throne – and on Saturday he gained entry into Vienna's Imperial Crypt, the final resting place of the rest of his dynasty, not as emperor but as an ordinary mortal stripped of all honours and titles.

Three times the master of ceremonies knocked on the crypt's doors and twice the coffin was denied entry – first when the Archduke was named as emperor and holder of dozens of other royal titles, then when his academic and political achievements and other accomplishments were listed. "We do not know him!" was the response from the Capuchin friars within. The doors only opened after he was described as "Otto – a mortal and a sinner".

The crypt was the last stop for the crowd of mourners packing the 2.4km route from the Gothic cathedral where he was eulogised earlier in the day. Police estimated that 10,000 spectators lined the route. Austrian Army units in slow funeral march step were followed by a gurney carrying the coffin, covered with the yellow-black Habsburg flag and flanked by the Tyrollean home guardsmen. Next came close family members, then crowned heads from Europe, Austrian government leaders, clergymen in fanciful Habsburg regimental colours.

The elaborate ceremony in Vienna's St Stephen's Cathedral also evoked the grandeur of the 640-year Habsburg dynasty. The Gothic church was packed. In another symbolic bow to the Habsburgs, seven bishops from nations of the former Austro-Hungarian empire – seven countries plus parts of modern-day Montenegro, Italy, Poland, Romania and Serbia and Ukraine – assisted the Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.

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