Previously we visited the Augustinian Church where the Habsburgs’ were married so today we are visiting the Imperial Crypt or Kaisergruft, a burial chamber beneath the Capuchin Church located in the Neuer Markt Square near the Hofberg Palace. In 1617, Anna of Tyrol, wife of Emperor Matthias left funds for a Capuchin cloister and burial crypt. Today the bones of 145 Habsburg royalty, including 12 emperors and 18 princesses, plus urns containing hearts, rest here. Twelve friars continue their role as custodians and guardians of the crypt.
The free standing tombs are variations of a flat-topped storage chest or a tub with sloping sides and a convex lid. The most common material for the sarcophagi was a bronze-like alloy of tin, but the beautiful tombs of the baroque and rococo eras are true bronze. The cover of of the double tomb of Maria Theresa and her husband alone weighs 3800 pounds. In order to stabilize the tombs they have iron bracings and wood linings to avoid cave ins and the buckling of side walls from the weight of the cover. Within the outer case lies a wooden coffin that is wrapped in silk; black with gold trim for rulers and red with silver trim for others. Various techniques of metal working were used; full casting or hollow for decorative sculpture, with ornaments and decorative figures screwed on. The coffin usually has two locks, one key kept by the Capuchin Guardian of the Crypt and the other is kept in the Schatzhammer of the Hofburg Palace.
The chamber had increased over the years from under the nave of the church to the entire length and width and then beyond the church to include the monastery garden’s, creating a hodgepodge of tombs and chambers beneath the church. This made it necessary to create additional space and dehumidify the crypt. There have been serious deteriorating conditions. Changes in heat and humidity, the peeling of horizontal surfaces, broken base plates and decorative fixtures broken off or stolen made it necessary for major restoration efforts. In 2003 remodeling of the crypt allowed visitors to see the tombs in historical order and enter from one end and leave at another. There are now ten interconnected, air conditioned, Vaults of the Imperial Crypt. In addition, security measures were put into place to prevent damage to the tombs. The oldest and most recent person entombed here (16 July 2011) is Otto von Habsburg, aged 98 years and 7 months. Twenty five percent of those entombed here were five years of age or less when they died. A very interesting place!