Saturday, June 28, 2014

28 June 1914 and the Jesuits.

Today is the one-hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Duchess Sophie von Hohenburg during a visit to Sarajevo, an event that precipitated a political crisis that led to the First World War. The assassination has a little-known Jesuit connection, as I discovered in the course of two successive summers in Austria. A display case at Vienna's Military History Museum offers an enigmatic clue: the pistol that Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip used to kill Franz Ferdinand and Sophie is identified by a small plaque including the words Leihgabe d. Ă–sterr. Provinz der Gesellschaft Jesu - "On loan from the Austrian Province of the Society of Jesus."

I was quite amused when I first saw the ascription of ownership on the plaque below the murder weapon; it struck me that this was another proof that truth is stranger than fiction, and I mused that this unlikely fact would surely titillate enthusiasts of Jesuit conspiracy theories. The story behind Jesuit ownership of the artifact is actually rather straightforward, and it was even reported by the international news media ten years ago when the Austrian Jesuits agreed to lend the pistol to the museum. After serving as evidence in the trial of Princip and his co-conspirators, the murder weapon and a few other items - including two other pistols, some bullets, and the Archduke's bloodied shirt - were given to an Austrian Jesuit, Father Anton Puntigam. A teacher and school chaplain who worked in Sarajevo at the time of the assassination, Puntigam administered the last rites to Franz Ferdinand and Sophie and evidently respected the murdered couple so much that he hoped to establish a museum in their memory. The vicissitudes of war and the austere peace that followed prevented Puntigam's plans from coming to fruition, and after the priest's death in 1926 the murder weapon and related items ended up in the Jesuit archives in Vienna. Loaned to the Austrian Military History Museum in 2004, Princip's gun and the other objects given to Father Puntigam have been on display ever since - with the aforementioned plaque making it clear that they still belong to Ours.

As the late Paul Harvey used to say, "And now you know... the rest of the story." AMDG.


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