Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sic transit gloria mundi.

In my preceding post on Otto von Habsburg's funeral, I promised to write something on the Anklopfzeremonie, which has previously been a part of Habsburg obsequies and may have been performed for the very last time when the former Crown Prince of Austria and Prince Royal of Hungary was laid to rest Saturday evening in the Habsburg family crypt in Vienna's Kapuzinerkirche. The title of this ritual is perhaps most easily rendered in English as the 'Knocking Ceremony,' though the German anklopf conveys a more specific sense of 'knocking on' something, such that a better (albeit wordier) translation might be, 'the Ceremonial Knocking on the Doors.'

As you can see in the above video, the Anklopfzeremonie is fairly straightforward. A Habsburg family representative (in imperial times, I suppose this would have been the Lord Chamberlain) approaches the closed doors of the Kapuzinerkirche and knocks on the door three times. On the other side of the door, the Capuchin friar who serves as custodian of the crypt answers, "Wer begehrt Einlass?" ("Who desires entrance?") In response, the chamberlain reads a long list of the deceased's titles, ranging in this case from erstwhile Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary to Voivode of the Voivodeship of Serbia. The Capuchin answers emphatically, "Wir kennen ihn nicht!" ("We do not know him!") The chamberlain again knocks three times, the Capuchin again asks who wishes to be let in, and the chamberlain responds by again invoking the royal status of the deceased (in Otto's case, this was substituted with a recounting of some of his personal accomplishments, such as his service in the European Parliament). The Capuchin again says, "Wir kennen ihn nicht!" The chamberlain knocks on the door three more times, with the Capuchin again asking who wishes to be let into the church. The chamberlain replies, "Otto – ein sterblicher, sündiger Mensch!" ("Otto, a mortal, sinful man!") The Capuchin answers, "So komme er herein!" ("He may come in!") Only then are the doors opened and the coffin brought into the church.

I first learned of the Anklopfzeremonie several years ago, when I saw video footage of the ritual being performed for Otto's mother Empress Zita, who was interred at the Kapuzinerkirche in April 1989. Among other things, the Anklopfzeremonie bears poignant witness to the transience of our earthly existence and the inescapable nature of the four last things. The Capuchin guardian of the crypt remains unmoved by the announcement of the deceased's earthly titles and honors, opening the door only to those who express humility and repentance. The message of this simple yet powerful ritual is one that we all need to hear, for even the least powerful among us can easily forget that all earthly things are ultimately ephemeral.

Otto von Habsburg was a great statesman and humanitarian, a devout man who used his considerable talents to serve others. Like the rest of us, he was also an imperfect human being and a sinner in need of God's mercy. May we who believe in the power of prayer and the reality of the final judgment remember to pray for God's servant Otto and for all who sleep in Christ. AMDG.


At 7/21/2011 2:24 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

Traditionally, at the second set of knockings, the chamberlain responded,
"The Apostolic King (Queen) of Hungary". The refusal of entry strikes me as an emphatic repudiation of clericalism.

Otto's mother is buried in the crypt, but his father, Blessed Karl, the last emperor, is buried in Madeira, where he died in penurious exile.

At 7/21/2011 5:07 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Thanks for the correction. As for Karl, I think that the small memorial to him in the Kaisergruft is quite moving in itself; I don't imagine that he will be reburied in Austria anytime soon, but who knows?

At 7/22/2011 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joseph is right, up to a point.

The hearts of Kaiser Karl and Kaiserin Zita are buried in a chapel or the crypt of the Benedictine abbey in Muri in hte Canton of Aargau, Switzerland, which the Habsburg family endowed in 1027 AD. The Habsburg family is named after Habsburg castle, in Habsburg, in the Canton of Aargau, Switzerland which served as their ancestral seat.

Before the Habsburgs acquired their empire they were Swiss counts; after they lost their empire, their hearts, it would appear, returned to their roots.

Here's the wikipedia entry that describes the abbey: and its links to the Habsburgs


At 7/27/2011 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly, the Capuchin seen in this video asking the questions is quoted here:

According to him, the notion that this ritual is traditional is "a legend". A Habsburg spokesperson is also quoted as stating that the ritual was first used in... 1989.

At 7/28/2011 5:56 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Yes, I had heard that the ceremony "in this form" dates only from 1989 - though the same spokesperson admits that some "individual details" date from much earlier:

'Eva Demmerle, die Sprecherin der Familie Habsburg, bestätigt, dass der Ritus in dieser Form und mit diesen Worten erstmals bei der Bestattung der Kaiserin Zita erfolgt sei. "Allerdings sind einzelne Details aus der Barockzeit überliefert, es gibt auch Grabinschriften, die Verstorbene als sündige Menschen bezeichnen. Aber dieses Zeremoniell gab es bisher nur bei Kaiserin Zita.'

Sure, it could have been a modern creation passed off as an ancient ritual - but that's not at all unusual in the history of court ceremonial. Regarding matters like these, I think the line from is apropos: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

At 7/30/2011 1:32 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

I don't know how old the "knocking" tradition is, but I distinctly remember a description of it in a series of lectures given by the Reverend Winthrop Brainerd in a course on pre-World War I diplomatic history at Harvard in the Spring of 1970. Father Brainerd, then an Anglican cleric, now a Roman Catholic priest, was a chaplain to the Empress Zita and received the Order of the Golden Fleece from her son Otto. It was the second knocking that was changed.

At 8/01/2011 9:49 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Thanks for the follow-up; I appreciate very much the reference to Father Brainerd, who (having by then crossed the Tiber) was the pastor of Epiphany Church in Georgetown when I was an undergraduate. I have fond memories of attending Mass there in his time (he was a fine homilist, and the liturgy and music were equally excellent) and I'm glad to have the opportunity to bring the recollection to mind.


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