The Schatzkammer Imperial Treasury houses a number of items for which the word “priceless” applies. The Schatzkammer is in the Hofburg Palace. The displays are split into a secular and ecclesiastical section, though they’re all part of one complex. What you get is a trip through over 1000 years of history in the form of imperial status symbols; crowns and ceremonial robes, swords and scepters, gems and jewelry, relics and rich altar tapestries.
Some of the religious relics have no records that go back far enough, therefore there can be no proof of authenticity.
Among the alleged religious relics on display are:
- a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, including a nail hole, thus suggesting the wood is impregnated with his blood
- a tooth from John the Baptist
- a piece of the tablecloth used at the Last Supper
- the nail used to pin Jesus’s right hand to the cross
- a tooth from St.Peter
- The ecclesiastical collection also houses the famous Agate Bowl, the largest carved bowl of its kind in the world, produced in the 4th century. Apparently the word “Christ” is inscribed in Greek letters in the actual (natural) substance of the stone, though it takes more imagination than I’ve got to see it!
In the secular collection, a notable display is the throne cot presented to the second wife of Napoleon by the city of Paris. She was the daughter of Hapsburg Emperor Francis I; Napoleon Junior died in Vienna from tuberculosis at a young age. The “Cradle of the King of Rome” has over a quarter of a tonne of precious metals in it.
The crown made for Emperor Rudolf II
Crown of the Kingdom of Austria
is depicted in his four principal offices and titles: front left, as victor over the Turks (Imperator): front right, his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in Regensburg (Augustus); rear left, his ride up the coronation hill after his coronation as king of Hungary in Pressburg (now Bratislava, Slovakia); and rear right, the procession at his coronation as king of Bohemia in Prague.
The choice and number of the stones used have allegorical and solely by precious stones and pearls in raised settings. The programmatic theological concept can be recognised in the more prominent of the four stone-encrusted plates. The twelve precious stones on the brow plate correspond to the number of the Apostles. The twelve stones on the neck plate refer to the pectoral of the Jewish high priest; they are engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.
In the place of the heart-shaped sapphire at the top of the arch of the brow plate, there was once the “Waise. The stone was last mentioned in an inventory of 1550; it later vanished.
The cloisonné enamel plaques are symbolically related to one another. The prophets included in these inscriptions hold banderoles inscribed with their own quotations explaining their relationship to one another. All of the biblical texts in the inscriptions are also quotations from the coronation liturgy, as laid down in the Ordo of 960.
Crown of King Rudolf II, of Austria
Only on the Maiestas Domini plate is there a quotation (Proverbs 8:15)
. Like his son and successor, Solomon, David both king of Israel and prophet, symbolises justice; Solomon symbolises wisdom and the fear of God; Isaiah prophesies a further fifteen years of life to King Hezekiah, lying on his deathbed, for his pious prayers to God. God shows mercy to the king by prolonging his life and destroying his enemies.
This crown is regarded as an imperial symbol representing in a suitably formal fashion the self-confidence of the Ottonian dynasty, endowed with the divine right of kings.
The Secular Treasury offers a unique panorama covering over a millennium of European history. This is the home of the most important collection of medieval royal objects: the insignia and jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, including the Imperial Crown and the Holy Lance.
Further highlights include the Crown of Emperor Rudolf II. (which later on became Crown of the Austrian Empire), as well as the vestments and other precious items of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
Exceedingly valuable gems, including one of the world’s largest emeralds, bear witness to the Habsburgs’ former degree of power. In earlier centuries, two items were considered to be so unique that they were declared “inalienable heirlooms of the House of Austria”:
- a giant narwhal tooth which was thought to be the horn of a unicorn
- and an agate bowl from Late Antiquity which was thought to be the legendary Holy Grail.
The Ecclesiastical Treasury offers a fascinating journey through the history of art, piety and religion. The itemsconsist of tell of the medieval cult of relics, from the Catholicism of the Habsburgs to the era of the Counterreformation, of rulers’ post-baroque piety and Austrian folk religiosity.
A document from the year 1337 states that, at that time, all treasures of the Habsburgs was kept in the sacristy of the Imperial Chapel. Only in the mid-16th century did Emperor Ferdinand I have the Treasury moved from the sacristy and into a newly equipped treasury vault near the Schweizertor (Swiss Gate).
Not everything, was moved there: a core collection of monstrances and chalices, chasubles and all sorts of church silver remained in the sacristy and under the direct care of the Imperial Court Chaplain.
Around 1585, the northern area of the Hofburg grounds was used for the construction of a new wing in which top floor the Treasury was then housed.
Plans from the years 1640 and 1641 tell us that, during the reign of Emperor Ferdinand II, the Treasury had already been divided into sacred and secular parts that adjoined each other spatially.
The oldest still-existing Ecclesiastical Treasury inventory, which dates from the year 1758, lists nearly five hundred objects that were housed into nine display cases. This display cases, fronted in glass and made of darkly stained oak wood, were ordered made by Charles VI (who ruled from 1711 to 1740).
Precious, jewel-studded relics and monstrances, as well as small enamel-ornamented home altars, received the most attention among the ecclesiastical treasures of the House of Habsburg. During the reign of Maria Theresia (ruled 1740–1780), the objects could be seen in a publicly accessible display collection. Up to seven individuals were allowed to share the high admission fee of 25 gulden.
The opportunity to see the Ecclesiastical Treasury ended abruptly when, following Maria Theresia’s death, her son, the enlightened church reformer Emperor Joseph II had the entire inventory of the Ecclesiastical Treasury transferred to the care of the Court Chaplain.
The items in the Ecclesiastical Treasury were united with the furnishings from the individual Court Chapels. This sacred treasury was then once again stored in the sacristy of the Imperial Court Chapel and remained virtually inaccessible to the public up to the end of the monarchy.
Following 1918, the reorganisation of the former imperial collections saw the Ecclesiastical Treasury attached to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and connected administratively with the Secular Treasury.
In 1921, a further former group of Habsburg sacred treasures was united with the inventory of the Ecclesiastical Treasury: the imperial treasures of the Capuchin Monastery.
The Viennese Cappuchin Monastery was founded by Empress Anna, wife to Emperor Matthias, in 1618 (which was to be the year of her death); Empress Anna also donated her important collection of preciously set relics and liturgical implements to the monastery. In order to respect the vow of poverty taken by the Capuchins, these sacred treasures were stored at the monastery but remained in imperial possession.
During the period between the two World Wars, the Ecclesiastical Treasury was set up in the former lodgings of the Court Chaplain. One of these rooms, the so-called “Old Ecclesiastical Treasury,” is used today for special exhibitions of the Treasury.
The desire to present the Ecclesiastical Treasury in spatial connection with the Secular Treasury, on the other hand, is why since 1954 the Ecclesiastical Treasury has been on display in those rooms which housed the Secular Treasury until the end of the monarchy. The fifth and final room of the Ecclesiastical Treasury was added upon the enlargement and alteration of both Treasuries, which were reopened following the conclusion of this project in 1986.