“Who Goes There?” – The 1916 funeral of Emperor Franz Joseph of the Hapsburg Empire

There is an interesting story from a famous funeral a century ago that illustrates well how we are all equal in the eyes of God.

When Emperor Franz Jospeh of Austria died in 1916 his funeral was the last of the extravagant imperial funerals of the famous Hapsburg dynasty. This royal family had been incredibly powerful in Europe for over 600 years.

Franz Joseph I (1830 – 1916) became the head of Austro-Hungarian kingdom in 1867 and ruled for 68 years.

 

For the state funeral of Emperor Franz there was a huge procession of elegantly dressed dignitaries as they escorted the casket through the streets of Vienna. The casket itself was draped in the black and gold imperial colours and was accompanied by a large military band.

When the procession arrived at the Capuchin Church the procession preceded 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. And 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 cried 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.

“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…” with the leading officer continuing to list all of the Emperor’s thirty-seven titles.

At the conclusion of the long list of titles the Cardinal’s response was swift – “We know him not!” 

The iron doors that lead into the Imperial Crypt of the Capuchin Church in Vienna, Austria.

 

The leading officer knocked again on the great iron door. Once again the Cardinal responded from behind the closed door – “Who goes there?”

The officer spoke again – this time using a much abbreviated and less ostentatious title for the deceased Emperor.

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

The officer gave a third knock. Once again the Cardinal asks: “Who goes there?”

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

With the final response of the officer the huge iron doors swung open – and the body of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria was allowed to enter.

This story from a bygone time illustrates well that no matter who we are, what our successes have been or our possessions gained – none of it matters in the end. Before our Creator we are all equal – we are sinners, undeserving of God’s grace and forgiveness but through Christ given it anyway.

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)

 

 

About the author: David Riley is a minister on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from a series on his blog “Reverential Ramblings”.

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