Monday, 18 July 2011

Home is where the Heart is.......

The heart of the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Otto von Habsburg, has been buried in central Hungary. The funeral of the last crown prince took place on Saturday in the Austrian capital Vienna, where his body was buried alongside those of his ancestors in the Imperial crypt. His heart was buried separately in accordance with Habsburg tradition. The event is also an echo of medieval aristocratic custom.

Mr Habsburg said he wanted his heart buried in Hungary to show the affection he held for the country, Austria's 19th-Century partner in the Austro-Hungarian empire. His heart was buried in a private ceremony on Sunday evening in the Benedictine Abbey in Pannonhalma, near Budapest, after a requiem mass.

A cleric at the service before the burial of Otto von Habsburg's heart (on the table in the silver urn) in Abbey of Pannonhalma
The service in the chapel was simple compared to the pomp of the Vienna funeral

Mr Habsburg's heart, in a silver urn, was placed on a table in front of the alter - surrounded by a wreath of red and white flowers in green leaves to represent Hungary's national colours. At the end of the service his two sons carried the urn down to the crypt for burial. Mr Habsburg, the son of the last emperor, died earlier this month at the age of 98.

His links to Pannonhalma Abbey dated back to the time of the monarchy when he was sent there as a boy to learn Hungarian, says our correspondent. His family fled Austria when their empire collapsed at the end of World War I, and he spent many decades in exile before giving up his claim to the throne in 1961. As a member of the European parliament for two decades, Mr Habsburg was a passionate advocate of European unity who dedicated himself to having former communist-ruled states brought into the EU. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso paid tribute to him as "a great European... who gave an important impetus to the European project throughout his rich life".

The hearts of other members of the Habsburg dynasty have been kept in urns in Vienna's Imperial crypt, where their bodies have been taken for burial since 1632. On Saturday thousands of Austrians and tourists lined the streets of Vienna's city centre ahead of a procession into St Stephen's Cathedral, where about 1,000 mourners had gathered. Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn presided over a funeral mass, attended by European royals including Sweden's King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg and Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein.


Burying the heart separately to the body was a custom used by a number of medieval European aristocrats:
  • Richard I (Richard the Lionheart): The English king's heart was buried at Rouen in Normandy after he died in 1199. His body was buried in Anjou
  • Robert the Bruce: The king of the Scots, who died in 1329, is buried in Dunfermline Abbey but his heart is buried in Melrose Abbey
  • The House of Habsburg has practised heart burial for centuries
But the practice was not limited to monarchs.
  • English writer Thomas Hardy's body is interred in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey but his heart is buried in the grave of his first wife Emma in Dorchester.

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