VIENNA (AP) — Lederhosen-clad Tyrollean guardsmen hoisted the coffin of Otto Von Habsburg onto their shoulders, carrying the oldest son of Austria's last emperor to rest in a pomp-filled ceremony evocative of the country's past grandeur as a ruler of much of Europe.
Austria shed its imperial past after it lost World War I. But for six hours Saturday, the pageantry, color and ceremony accompanying the Habsburg burial turned downtown Vienna into the imperial city that was once the hub of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Habsburg, who died July 4 at age 98 in southern Germany, was banished with the rest of his family after the collapse of the empire after World War I. The family then scattered across Europe.
To the end, Habsburg never formally renounced the throne — but on Saturday he gained entry into Vienna's Imperial Crypt, the final resting place of his dynasty, not as emperor but as a mortal stripped of all honors and titles.
Three times the master of ceremonies knocked on the crypt's doors and twice the coffin was denied entry — first when Habsburg 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 onto the sun-filled afternoon and into the gloomy half-light of the chapel above the crypt after Habsburg was described as "Otto — a mortal and a sinner."
The crypt was the last stop for the 1.2-kilometer (0.75-mile) crowd of mourners packing the 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) route from the Gothic cathedral where Habsburg was eulogized earlier in the day. Police estimated 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, clergy, men in fanciful Habsburg regiment colors and others dressed in less spectacular garb
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, as colorfully clad guardsmen, light cavalry units called dragoons, Hungarian hussars, sword-bearing members of student guilds and representatives of other uniformed formations harking back centuries mingled with somberly clad mourners.
Two floral crosses of roses were placed on the coffin — one for Habsburg's seven children, the other for his grand- and great-grandchildren. Two giant floral arrangements of 500 white roses and 200 red carnations stood near the coffin.
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 Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.
The ceremony included singing the old Imperial Hymn praising the emperor — although many in the pews stayed silent, reflecting a widespread critical view of the monarchy in modern-day Austria.
The coffin of Habsburg's wife, Regina, who died last year, was taken to the crypt earlier Saturday. It has been the final resting place for members of the Habsburg dynasty since 1632 and a prime Vienna tourist attraction.
The crypt also contains the hearts of the Habsburgs in urns separate from the coffins. But Habsburg's heart was to be encrypted Sunday in the Benedictine Abbey in Pannonhalma, central Hungary on his request, to reflect the affection he held for Hungary, Austria's 19th century partner in the Austro-Hungarian empire.
While never formally renouncing his right to the throne, Habsburg in his later life became an outspoken supporter of parliamentary democracy and a fighter for a united Europe. He used his influence in a vain struggle to keep the Nazis from annexing Austria before World War II, then campaigned for the opening of the Iron Curtain in the decades after the war.
In a message read by Papal Nunzio Peter Stephan Zurbriggen, Pope Benedict XVI praised the gaunt, bespectacled scion of the Austrian empire who was also a member of the European Parliament as a "great European ... who engaged himself tirelessly for the peace and coexistence of peoples and for a fair system on this continent."
European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek spoke of the special affection his Polish countrymen and others in Soviet-ruled Eastern Europe had for Habsburg because of his efforts to unify the continent during the Cold War.
"It was very important to us ... on the opposite side of the Iron Curtain," he said.
European royals were among the VIPs in the front pews as incense-swinging clergy and the first chords of Michael Haydn's Requiem in C-Minor signaled the start of the Mass.
Among them were Sweden's king and queen; the ruling grand duke and grand duchess of Luxembourg; Liechtenstein's ruling duke and duchess; the former kings of Romania and Bulgaria, and representatives of the British, Belgian and Spanish ruling houses.
Before the start of the Mass, they and family members stood silently in front of the coffin, heads bowed in respect.
With the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, Habsburg used his seat in European Parliament to lobby for expanding the European Union to include former Eastern bloc nations. He was a member of the European Parliament for the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union in southern Germany and also served as president of the Pan-European League from 1979 to 1999.
Karl, the eldest son of Otto and Regina Habsburg, now runs the family's affairs and has been the official head of the House of Habsburg since 2007.
George Jahn can be reached at: http://twitter.com/georgejahn
- World War I.