“Who Goes There?” – The incredible story of the funeral for Emperor Franz Joseph

When Emperor Franz Jospeh of Austria died in 1916 – his extravagant funeral was the last of the famous Hapsburg dynasty. This powerful royal family had ruled for over six hundred years, and Franz Joseph had been on the throne for almost seventy years.

The funeral for Emperor Franz through the streets of Vienna including a huge procession of elegantly dressed dignitaries escorting the casket through the city’s streets. Over three hundred thousand people turned up to the funeral to show their appreciation for the Emperor’s decades of service.

When the funeral procession arrived at Vienna’s ancient Capuchin Church, they carried the ornate casket down the four hundred year old stairs to the Imperial Crypt. At the bottom of the stairs – lit by torch light – was a great iron door that barred the way to the final resting place for the descendants of the Hapsburg family. On the other side of the locked iron door was the Cardinal of Vienna waiting for the casket to arrive.

The military officer leading the royal casket of the Emperor stopped at the door and yelled out “Open!” – as he was obligated to do as part of the prescribed ceremony established centuries ago.

“Who goes there?” responded the Cardinal from behind the iron doors.

The leading officer responded: “We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz Joseph the First, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Defender of the faith…” and the officer continued listing all thirty-seven royal titles of the Emperor.

At the conclusion of the long list of the Emperor’s titles the Cardinal’s response was swift – “We know him not!” – and the iron doors stayed closed

The leading officer knocked again, and once again the Cardinal responded from behind the closed door – “Who goes there?”

The officer responded for a second time – this time using a much abbreviated and less ostentatious series of titles for the deceased ruler.

“We know him not!” the Cardinal replied again.

The officer then gave a third and final knock. Once again the Cardinal asked: “Who goes there?”

This time the officer’s reply stripped the Emperor of all but the humblest of titles – “We bear the body of Franz Joseph, our brother, and he is a sinner – just like us all.”

With this final acknowledgment that we are all equal, the Cardinal swung open the huge iron doors of the crypt, and the body of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria was carried in to his final place of rest. (See the YouTube clip below of the century-old film footage of the funeral). 

No matter who we are, what our earthly successes have been, or the possessions we have gained – none of it matters in the end. Before our Creator we are all equal – all sinners and undeserving of God’s grace. Yet, through faith in Christ we are forgiven and allowed to enter the gates of eternal life.

As the Apostle Paul says in the Bible: “For there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female – for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Franz Joseph I (1830 – 1916) became the head of Austro-Hungarian kingdom in 1867 and ruled for almost seventy years.
The iron doors that lead into the Imperial Crypt of the Capuchin Church in Vienna, Austria.


About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and lives in Australia. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series – which you can subscribe to by clicking “follow” on this website.

Want to read more inspirational stories of faith from this series? Click here to read of why one olympic rower stopped in the middle of his race.David speaking 2