Eternal Hearts—History of Heart Burial in Europe

10. The House of Habsburg

The two eminent German-speaking dynasties Wittelsbach and Habsburg, who, both rivals and allies at the same time, together determined German and European history, were alongside the Valois and Bourbon dynasties of France the most rigorous performers of heart burial.

Mater Lauretana in the Loreto chapel of St.
                  Augustin in Vienna and the Black Madonna in the Chapel
                  of the Miraculous Image in Altötting (Armin Dietz)Emperor Frederick III (†1493) was the first Habsburg whose heart and entrails were buried separately, in the parish church of Linz. His son Maximilian I, the "last knight" (†1519), decided that his heart should be put in the coffin of his first wife, Maria of Burgundy, in the chancel of the church of our Dear Lady in Bruges. The heart of their son, Philipp the Handsome (†1506) was placed next to his mother's coffin (see above).

< "Mater Lauretana" in the Loreto chapel of St. Augustin in Vienna and the Black Madonna in the Chapel of the Miraculous Image in Altötting (Armin Dietz)

It was not until several generations later, during the Thirty Years War, that the two noble houses resumed this burial tradition. During its history, the arch-house of Austria had developed a great affection for the Madonna of Loreto, who became the "mater lauretana" (or "die Hausmutter"), i.e. "the mother of dynasty and subjects", whilst the Wittelsbach dynasty, likewise catholics, had bound themselves to a similar image, that of the Black Madonna of Altötting.

The heart vault of the House of Habsburg in the
                  Loreto chapel (Armin Dietz)

^ The heart vault of the House of Habsburg in the Loreto chapel (Armin Dietz)

In the plain Loreto chapel of the Augustinian church in Vienna there are 54 simple heart containers. The oldest is that of the empress Anna of Tyrol (†1618), the last is that of the archduke Franz-Karl (†1878), the father of the emperor Franz-Joseph.

Only a few refused to take part in this family tradition, whilst other hearts are situated in the Capuchin crypt in Vienna, like that of the queen Maria Anna (†1754) and the empress Amalia Wilhelmina (†1742). The heart of the son of Napoleon I, the duke of Reichstadt (†1832), rests in the Loreto vault of St. Augustine, the entrails in the catacombs of St. Stephen's cathedral, as do the entrails and hearts of several Habsburgs, which can also be found in the "little heart crypt" in the mausoleum of the cathedral of Graz and in other homes of the Danubian monarchy.

The nobility at court sometimes followed their sovereign's example, as did the Schwarzenberg family in Krumau, the Countess Rietberg-Kaunitz (†1758) in Rietberg and the Count of Plaz in St. Jakob am Thurn.

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