Ducal Crypt, Vienna

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Stephansdom in Vienna, Austria, which houses the Ducal Crypt
Ducal Crypt

The Ducal Crypt (German: Herzogsgruft) is a burial chamber beneath the chancel of Stephansdom in Vienna, Austria. It holds 78 containers with the bodies, hearts, or viscera of 72 members of the House of Habsburg.


Before his death at age 25 in 1365, Duke Rudolf IV3 had ordered a crypt to be built for his remains in the new cathedral he commissioned, and it has sheltered those remains for over 650 years. He also ordered a cenotaph for himself to be placed upstairs above the crypt, in front of the high altar. That symbolic tomb was later moved to the north choir and his epitaph written in secret symbols was placed on the wall of that choir.

The family of the ruling line of Austrian dukes was buried here after Rudolf IV, but after the dynasty became emperors they were buried in various cities (Vienna was not yet the settled seat of the emperor). After the Imperial Crypt at the Kapuzinerkirche opened in 1633, it became the new dynastic burial place.

The Ducal Crypt (red letters) is one of several burial locations beneath Stephansdom. The bones of over 11,000 persons from cemeteries formerly around the church are stored in the Catacombs.

Embalmers have known since the time of the Ancient Egyptians that it is necessary to remove the internal organs if the rest of the body is to be preserved. The containers with those organs were usually put in the coffin, but when the heir to the Imperial Throne, King Ferdinand IV of the Romans, died in 1654, he specified in his will that the container with his heart be placed in the Augustinerkirche, his body in the Imperial Crypt in the Kapuzinerkirche, and the urn with his viscera in the crypt at the Stephansdom. His instructions resulted in the foundation of the Herzgruft at the Augustinerkirche. His younger brother, Emperor Leopold I, pursued a tradition imitating that distribution of remains, and also enlarged the Imperial Crypt to make it large enough for additional future burials. The urns with viscera were thereafter regularly deposited in the Ducal Crypt in the Stephansdom. There are now 33 persons who are each buried in all three places.

By 1754 the small rectangular Ducal Crypt was overcrowded with 12 sarcophagi and 39 urns, so the area was expanded with an oval chamber being added (directly beneath the present location of the Archbishop's Throne) beyond the east end of the rectangular one. New sarcophagi were made for some of the bodies.

In 1956 the crypt was renovated and the contents were rearranged. The sarcophagi of Duke Rudolf IV3 and his wife4 were placed upon a pedestal and the 62 urns containing organs were moved from the two rows of shelves around the new section to cabinets in the original chamber.

Deposition in the crypt has not always been permanent. Emperor Frederick III lay here for only 20 years after his death, until his magnificent tomb upstairs in the south choir was ready. The body of his brother, Archduke Albert VI, was removed after 300 years.

The old and new chambers of the crypt are adjacent, with a tunnel for daylight at the east (left) end, and stairs descending to the crypt's old chamber from the west.

The greatest influx, other that the regular arrival of visceral urns, came as a result of the Austrian version of the Dissolution of the English Monasteries under Emperor Joseph II in 1782. When the religious institutions holding bodies of some of the members of the dynasty were closed, they needed to be moved. The Imperial Crypt at that time had only half the space it has today, and already held 57 bodies. The emperor ordered that the bodies of two persons1 14 who had died before the Imperial Crypt opened be brought to the Ducal Crypt instead. Another person, Empress Eleanor,16 would normally have been entitled to space in the Imperial Crypt, but because her husband19 was not buried there either, her body was sent to the Ducal Crypt.

It is probably around this time that the body of Duke Albert VI was removed to make room for others, and that the body15 whose sarcophagus is inscribed with only the year and name of the parents arrived. Identified through other evidence as one-year-old Anna of Lorraine, it is known that her brother Charles V, Duke of Lorraine married Archduchess Eleanora Maria Josepha (1653–1697) (widowed Queen of Poland and daughter of Emperor Ferdinand III)21 in 1678, and that marriage may have some connection with this non-Habsburg being brought here, but the exact reason is unclear.

The last item interred here is the urn with the viscera of Archduke Franz Karl78, father of Emperor Franz Joseph, in 1878.

List of persons buried in the Ducal Crypt[edit]

In the Original Crypt, the urns and sarcophagi are shown in disarray in this 1739 engraving. The new chamber was added a dozen years later, connecting through the wall to the left. The cross arrangement engraved in the wall was moved to the new chamber.

The Ducal Crypt shelters the bodies of:

  • 1 King Frederick III of the Romans (1286–1330) "the handsome" son of King Albert I, father of Duke Albert II and grandfather of Duke Rudolf IV.3 His remains were moved here in 1782 when the Carthusian monastery he founded at Mauerbach, his original burial place, was closed during the anti-clerical reforms of Emperor Joseph II "Sunny".
  • 2 Duke Friedrich (1347–1362), second son of Duke Albert II and the 15-year-old brother of Rudolf IV.3
  • 3 Duke Rudolf IV (1339–1365) "the founder," eldest son of Duke Albert II. Rudolf commissioned the present cathedral, and founded the University of Vienna before his death in Milan at age 25. He was originally entombed in S. Giovanni in Concha and later moved to here. The University lays a wreath on his tomb every 12 March to commemorate its founding by him.
  • 4 Duchess Katharine of Bohemia (19 August 1342 - 26 April 1395) wife of Rudolf IV3 and daughter of Emperor Charles IV. After the death of Rudolf she married Otto V, Duke of Bavaria.
  • 5 Duke Albert III (1349–1395) "with the pigtail," third son of Duke Albert II and younger brother of Rudolf IV.3 Died at age 46.
  • 6 Duke Albert IV (1377–1404) son of Albert III.5 Died at age 27.
  • 7 Duke Wilhelm (1370–1406) oldest son of Rudolf IVs youngest brother, Leopold III.
  • 8 Duke Leopold IV (1371–1411) "the fat" younger son of Rudolf IVs youngest brother, Leopold III.
  • 9 Duke George (1435–1435) infant son of Duke Albert V.
  • 11 Archduke Karl (1565–1566) 9-month-old son of Emperor Maximilian II.
  • 12 Archduke Ferdinand (1551–1552) 15-month-old son of Emperor Maximilian II.
  • 13 Archduchess Maria (1564–1564) one-month-old daughter of Emperor Maximilian II.
  • 14 Queen Elisabeth (1554–1592) Widow of King Charles IX of France and daughter of Emperor Maximilian II. In 1782 her body was moved here from the convent she had founded.
  • 15 Duchess Anna (1645–1646) →Family Tree young daughter of Duke Nicholas II, Duke of Lorraine, a former Cardinal.
  • 16 Empress Eleanor of Gonzaga (1598–1655) second wife of Emperor Ferdinand II.19 Her remains were moved here in 1782 from the Carmelite convent "Siebenbüchnerinnen" in Vienna that she had founded.

Gated niches in the original chamber (outside the entrance to the previous chamber) protect 62 copper urns containing the viscera (intestines) of various members of the Habsburg dynasty.

  • 17 (Viscera of) Empress Anna of Tyrol (4 October 1585–15 December 1618) →Family Tree Daughter of Ferdinand II, Duke of Tyrol and wife of her cousin Emperor Matthias18 who was 28 years older than her. She provided in her will of 1617 for the establishment of a crypt for her and her husband in a Capuchin's Church to be built in Vienna, and died only one year later, at age 33 after seven years of a childless marriage and is buried in tomb 1 in the Imperial Crypt she founded. Her heart is in urn 1 in the Herzgruft in the Augustinerkirche.
Emperor Matthias is the first emperor whose viscera are deposited here. They were brought to the Ducal Crypt from their original resting place over 20 years later, after the testament of emperor-elect King Ferdinand IV of the Romans had set the precedent for honoring these three churches with the remains of the members of the Imperial Family.
Emperor Leopold I41 enlarged the Imperial Crypt at the Kapuzinerkirche and established the tradition of burying members of the Imperial Family in these three churches in Vienna, following the precedent set in 1654 by King Ferdinand IV of the Romans.
The New Chamber, as shown in this 1758 engraving, is substantially how it looks today. The window behind the sarcophagus of Duke Rudolf IV has a long sill sloping to the ground above to provide light. The urns containing viscera have now been moved to the adjoining Original Chamber.
  • 54 (Viscera of) Archduke Karl Joseph Emanuel Johann Nepomuck Anton Prokop (1 February 1745–18 January 1761) →Family Tree Second son of Emperor Franz I Stephen56 and Empress Maria Theresa.57 Died of smallpox shortly before his 16th birthday. His heart is in urn 18 in the Herzgruft in the Augustinerkirche and he is buried in tomb 44 in the Imperial Crypt in the Kapuzinerkirche.
  • 55 (Viscera of) Archduchess Marie Johanna Gabriele Josephe Antonie (4 February 1750 - 23 December 1762 →Family Tree Eighth daughter of Emperor Franz I Stephen56 and Empress Maria Theresa.57 Died of smallpox at age 12. Her heart is in urn 19 in the Herzgruft in the Augustinerkirche and she is buried in tomb 45 in the Imperial Crypt in the Kapuzinerkirche.
  • 56 (Viscera of) Emperor Franz I Stephen (Lunéville 8 December 1708 - Innsbruck 18 August 1765) →Family Tree Duke of Lorraine and Grand Duke of Tuscany. Husband of Empress Maria Theresa,57 he died at age 56 after nominally being Emperor for 25 years. His heart is in urn 20 in the Herzgruft in the Augustinerkirche and he is buried in tomb 55 in the Imperial Crypt in the Kapuzinerkirche.
  • 57 (Viscera of) Empress Maria Theresa (13 May 1717 - 29 November 1780) →Family Tree Eldest surviving descendent of Emperor Karl VI,48→Family Tree her ascension was contested and officially the crown of the Empire went to her husband (1736) Emperor Franz I Stephen.56 but she held Hungary and Bohemia as Queen in her own right. Dying at age 63, her forty years' reign is thought of by the Austrians as the British think of Queen Victoria: the golden years of power, prestige and empire. Her heart is in urn 21 in the Herzgruft in the Augustinerkirche and she is buried in tomb 56 in the Imperial Crypt in the Kapuzinerkirche.
  • 58 (Viscera of) Archduchess Louise Elisabeth (Vienna 18 February 1790 - Vienna 24 June 1791) →Family Tree Infant first daughter of Emperor Franz II and Empress Maria Theresia.70 Her heart is in urn 22 in the Herzgruft in the Augustinerkirche and she is buried in tomb 66 in the Imperial Crypt in the Kapuzinerkirche.
Emperor Leopold II spent little time in Vienna even during his two-year reign, but is now buried in three different Viennese churches.
Emperor Ferdinand,77 painted at age 40, is the last emperor to have his viscera deposited in the Ducal Crypt.

See also[edit]


  • Kritzer, Hubert; Schaden, Christine (2003). Der Friedhof von Sankt Stephan (Institut für Kunstgeschichte ed.). Vienna: University of Vienna. Archived from the original on 2004-06-27.  (in German)
  • Gruber, Reinhard H. (2001). St. Stephan's Cathedral in Vienna (2nd. ed.). Vienna: Stephansdom. 
  • Theroff, Paul. "Austria". An Online Gotha. 

Coordinates: 48°12′30″N 16°22′22″E / 48.20833°N 16.37278°E / 48.20833; 16.37278