Habsburg: Funeral held for last Austro-Hungarian heir

Mourners gathered on the streets of Vienna for the funeral of the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Otto von Habsburg

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The funeral of the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Otto von Habsburg, has taken place in the Austrian capital Vienna.

European royals and political leaders, many from nations that his family ruled over, attended the service.

The body of the last crown prince was buried in the Imperial crypt at a private ceremony. His wife, who died last year, was buried alongside him.

Mr Habsburg, a former MEP, died earlier this month at the age of 98 in Germany.

Thousands of Austrians and tourists lined the streets of Vienna's city centre ahead of a procession into St Stephen's Cathedral, where about 1,000 mourners had gathered.

HEART BURIAL

Burying the heart separately to the body was a custom used by a number of medieval European aristocrats:

  • Richard I (Richard the Lionheart): The English king's heart was buried at Rouen in Normandy after he died in 1199. His body was buried in Anjou
  • Robert the Bruce: The king of the Scots, who died in 1329, is buried in Dunfermline Abbey but his heart is buried in Melrose Abbey
  • The House of Habsburg has practised heart burial for centuries

But the practice was not limited to monarchs.

  • English writer Thomas Hardy's body is interred in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey but his heart is buried in the grave of his first wife Emma in Dorchester.

Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn presided over a funeral mass, attended by European royals including Sweden's King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg and Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein.

Among the political figures at the ceremony were Austrian President Heinz Fischer, and the prime ministers of Croatia and Macedonia.

Members of historical societies wearing traditional uniforms mingled with mourners outside the cathedral watching the service on large screens.

Mr Habsburg's body was buried shortly afterwards in the Imperial crypt where his ancestors lie. However, his heart will be taken to Hungary for burial at an abbey west of Budapest on Sunday, in accordance with a Habsburg tradition.

A passionate advocate of European unity, Mr Habsburg served as a member of the European parliament for two decades.

His son Karl Habsburg said his father witnessed huge changes in Europe during his life.

"It would always be wrong to only remember him in the context of the old monarchy or only remember him in the context of the European Union. I think he should be remembered in the whole arch that his life has been creating... over the whole changes that happened to Europe in his lifetime," he said.

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna says that there have been some complaints that the pomp surrounding the funeral is out of place in a republic.

'Life in exile'

Mr Habsburg was born in 1912, six years before the collapse of the empire at the end of the First World War.

Otto von Habsburg - 26 June 2007 Otto von Habsburg only relinquished his claim to the fallen Austro-Hungarian empire in 1961

He spent many decades exiled from Austria after his family fled in 1919, but relinquished his own claim to inherit the empire in 1961. Five years later he was allowed to return to Austria.

He was an opponent of the Nazis and spoke out against Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938.

In 1989 he helped organise the Pan-European Picnic demonstration on the border of Austria and Hungary.

The border was briefly opened, an event credited with helping usher in the fall of the Berlin Wall months later.

Mr Habsburg then dedicated himself to having the former communist-ruled states of eastern Europe brought into the EU.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso paid tribute to him as "a great European... who gave an important impetus to the European project throughout his rich life".

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