Monday, 30 November 2015

viennese sandbox: hofburg and treasury

H and I wandered through the gardens and the courtyards of the massive campus of the Hofburg of central Vienna—the wintering residence of the Hapsburg dynasty. Built up since 1279 and with a dizzying array of attractions vying for attention, we knew unfortunately we needed to be selective and could only see so much in a limited amount of time, ever a precious commodity. We passed several wings and chose one of the ten museums housed in the sprawling complex, the Imperial Treasury, Der Kaiserliche Schatzkammer. Though depleted notably over the centuries to finance wars with Prussia, the collection of secular and ecclesiastical treasures comprised some astounding rarities and the trappings of empire and ceremony. There were many other iconic and bizarre items in a maze of galleries, like this bassinette for the infant heir-apparent, a key cabinet for the sarcophagi of the emperor’s entombed in the city (there’s a certainly a tangible fascination with remembrance, death and the macabre associated with Vienna, and a jewelled hat that is metonymy for the Kingdom of Hungary.  The artefacts and wardrobe of state was expansive and dazzling but the core of the consignment is the imperial regalia (die Reichskleinodien). These manifestations of spiritual and temporal power were kept in Nuremburg until around 1800 when the Napoleonic Wars saw the dissolution of the Holy and Roman Empire of the Germans when they were sent to Vienna for safe-keeping.

The Hapsburgs never returned the treasure, however—which includes what is purportedly the Spear of Destiny (das Heilige Lanze) of centurion Longinus, who witnessed the Crucifixion and confirmed the Messiah was dead, and used in enthronement rites at least since the time of the Merovingians and was probably among the souvenirs that Constantine’s mother picked up in the Holy Land.
With the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler did not plunder Vienna’s treasury but did specifically repatriate those symbols of state, believing the relic to be a powerful talisman and rightfully belonged back in Nuremburg, which Hitler styled as the spiritual centre of Germany. During the bombing campaign of Nuremburg, the regalia was found by the US Army and expatriated by General Patton once again to Vienna where they have remained since. Legendary matters of course have a tendency to snowball but there are some strange coincidences associated with that historical vestige.
Late in the afternoon, we returned to the Hofburg by way of the Opera to see it fully illuminated and the Christmas Village (Weihnachtsdorf) bustling on the grounds.
It was a cheerful atmosphere and put us in a right proper mood—what with the fear-mongering against public gatherings enunciated in Germany and the Pope’s comment (while they were erecting the tree in Saint Peter’s square) that Christmas is a charade in a world of hate and violence. There was no snow or carolling yet but plenty of festive feelings to go around.