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The Kaisergruft

May 3, 2014

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For centuries, Habsburg rulers and their families were -- indeed, they still are -- laid to rest in bronze coffins on the tiled floor of the crypt below the Cappucin monastery in central Vienna (the modest red, brick building on the left in the photo below). On the cold January day of Crown Prince Rudolf's funeral, in 1889, the procession made its way to the door of the crypt. But before any could enter, the monks demanded a concession to Christian humility.

(As described by Frederick Morton in A Nervous Splendor.)

Karl Count Bombelle's, Rudolf's First Lord Chamberlain . . . with a golden staff he knocked against the simple portal. The dialogue began, ancient and brief

Who is it? a friar demanded from inside.

"His Most Serene Imperial and Royal Highness, the Archduke Crown Prince Rudolf of Hapsburg."

We know him not.

The door remained closed. Again the golden staff knocked.

Who is there?

"The Crown Prince Rudolf."

We know him not.

The door remained closed. Once more the golden staff must knock.

Who is there?

"Your brother Rudolf. A poor sinner."

The door opened.