Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.


A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Charles of Austria

TODAY IS THE first feast of Blessed Charles since the announcement last December that the cause for the canonisation of his wife, Zita of Bourbon-Parma, has been opened as well. In an age when most people in government and public leadership seem barely even decent, let alone saints, it is all the more important to seek the prayers and intercession of Charles and Zita — husband and wife, mother and father, Emperor and Empress — for the preservation of peace, the prevention of war, and the renovation of our families as well as our societies at large. (more…)

October 21, 2010 12:12 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

Relic of Blessed Charles in Catalonia

In October of last year, a relic ex ossibus of Blessed Charles I was formally received at the Basilica Church of Our Lady of Mercy & St. Michael Archangel in Barcelona, the capital city of the Spanish principality of Catalonia. The bone fragment is the first relic of the last Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, and King of Bohemia to be publicly venerated in the Kingdom of Spain. It was requested by His Grace the Bishop of Solsona, Don Jaume Traserra y Cunillera, at the request of the Catalonian Delegation of the Constantinian Order. The relic has been enshrined in the chapel of St. Michael the Archangel, alongside a portrait of the Emperor.

A grandson of Blessed Charles, HIRH the Archduke Simeon of Austria, attended (with his wife) as the representative of HRH the Infante Don Carlos, Duke of Calabria, the Grand Master of the Constantinian Order and head of the Royal House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. Also in attendance were Lt. Gen. Don Fernando Torres Gonzalez (Army Inspector General), General Mainar Don Gustavo Gutierrez (Chief of the 3rd Sub-inspection Pyrenees and Military Commander General of Barcelona and Tarragona), as well as representatives of the Order of Malta, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, various guilds and corps of Spanish nobility, and lay fraternities.

January 20, 2010 8:06 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

Hapsburg Hebraica

Empress Zita and Emperor Charles of Austria are prayed over by a Jewish rabbi.

After the passing of the Hapsburg empire, which had been so protective of its Jewish subjects (especially compared to the regimes which succeeded it), numerous prominent Jews were received into the Catholic faith, perhaps having come to a full appreciation of precisely what they had lost. The subject of “Literary Jewish Converts to Christianity in Interwar Hungary” is worthy of further investigation (some graduate student should write a dissertation on just such a matter). I am no longer surprised when, in my researches, I come across yet another fascinating Hungarian Jew — be he a writer, playwright, poet, or patron — and discover, usually buried in some footnote, that he died a good Catholic.

December 30, 2009 10:02 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

St. Zita?

Church Opens Investigation into Sanctity of Zita of Bourbon-Parma, Wife of Blessed Charles and Last Empress of Austria-Hungary

It was announced recently that Mgr. Yves Le Saux, Bishop of Le Mans in the traditional province of Maine (Pays de la Loire), France has opened the cause for the beatification of Zita of Bourbon-Parma, the long-lived wife of Blessed Emperor Charles of Austria. Charles, the last (to date) Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, and King of Bohemia (&c.), died in exile in Madiera in 1922, aged just thirty-four years. Zita Maria delle Grazie Adelgonda Micaela Raffaela Gabriella Giuseppina Antonia Luisa Agnese de Bourbon-Parma, meanwhile, was born in Tuscany in 1892 and lived a long life, giving up the ghost in March 1989, and interred in the Capuchin vault in Vienna following a funeral of imperial dignity.

“The process was opened in Le Mans,” Gregor Kollmorgen of TNLM reports, “and not in the Swiss diocese of Chur, where the Empress died twenty years ago in 1989 in Zizers, with the consent of Msgr. Huonder, the Bishop of Chur, and the permission of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, because within the diocese of Le Mans is situated the Abbey of Solesmes, well known to NLM readers for its leading rôle in the early liturgical movement in the nineteenth century, especially regarding Gregorian chant, and which was the spiritual center of the Servant of God Zita, her home among her many exiles.”

Zita’s relationship with Solesmes dates back to 1909 when she first visited its sister-abbey of St. Cecilia on the Isle of Wight in England. She became an oblate of the Abbey of Solesmes itself in 1926. Her daily life after the exile & death of her saintly husband included the Rosary, hearing multiple daily masses, and praying part of the Divine Office. (more…)

December 13, 2009 9:18 pm | Link | 10 Comments »

Universitas Carolina Pragensis

The Charles University of Prague

Prague’s university, the Universitas Carolina, was founded in 1347 and this is the first university of the Germans — a nation with a long (if varied) intellectual tradition. In a fashion similar to the medieval university of Paris, the Charles University was divided into “nations”: the Bavarians, the Bohemians, the Poles, and the Saxons. The splendid cosmopolitanism of Christendom was threatened by the challenge of nationalism as early as the 1400s, when the Decree of Kuttenberg stoked ethnic tensions by granting the masters of the Bohemian “nation” at the University three votes to the one vote to be shared amongst the Bavarians, Poles, and Saxons. All of this was provoked by various political power plays during the Western Schism, and the Decree resulted in an exodus of German professors and students to other universities, and indeed inspired the foundation of the university at Leipzig. More lamentable was the election, soon after, of the heretic Jan Hus as rector of the Bohemian-dominated university. No good came from this, but after the fall of the Hussites, order was restored.

In the following centuries the university underwent numerous changes. A new academy, the Clementinum, was founded in 1562. The Jesuits were given control in 1622, and twenty years later Ferdinand III merged the two centers of learning to form the Charles-Ferdinand University. In 1784, German replaced Latin as the language of instruction, and in 1791 Leopold II established a chair of Czech language and literature. By the 1860s, the royal city of Prague no longer had a German-speaking majority, and by then Czech had joined German as a medium of learning. Lamentably, the government decided to split Prague’s university in two on lingual lines: the Royal & Imperial German Charles-Ferdinand University, and the Royal & Imperial Czech Charles-Ferdinand University.

The German university experienced a brief heyday just before the First World War, but America’s entry into the conflict spelt doom not only for Catholic Europe as a whole, but specifically for any peoples who found themselves suddenly a member of an “ethnic minority”, no matter if they had dwelled there for centuries. The new Czechoslovak republic passed laws favouring the Czech University over the German University. With just over 50,000 Germans living in Prague after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the German University considered moving to Reichenberg (Cz., Liberec) in northern Bohemia, the central city to Czechoslovakia’s German population of some millions, but the academic leadership demurred.

After the 1939 invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Czech University was closed by the Nazis, who purported the close was temporary, but it remained shut until after the Soviet conquest of Prague in May 1945. The new Soviet-backed Czechoslovak authorities began the immediate ethnic cleansing of all Germans from their territory, irrespective of whether they had actively abetted the Nazis, resisted them, or remained inactive. The German University collapsed, but its remnants fled to Munich, where the Collegium Carolina continues today as a German-language institute for higher studies in Bohemian & Czech culture.

While the Czech University reopened — called simply the Univerzita Karlova v Praze, or Charles University of Prague — its freedom was short-lived as the Communists began their takeover of the Czechoslovak government and society. With the relaxation of restrictions during the 1980s, faculty and students began to voice their dissent from the socialist system, and many participated in the Velvet Revolution that ended political communism in Czechoslovakia. Today, the Charles University is widely recognised as the preeminent academic institution of the Czech Republic.

November 30, 2009 8:08 am | Link | No Comments »

Praga Caput Regni

Prague: Capital & Head of the Bohemian Realm

Prague is traditionally known as “Praga Caput Regni” — the capital of the realm, or indeed the head of the Bohemian body. Changing times and a different form of government mean that the arms of this ancient city now bear the motto “Praga Caput Rei Publicae” instead. The photographer Libor Sváček was born in the be-castled city of Krummau, and has a splendid book of photographs of that town, but here are a number of his photographs of Prague, which splendidly exhibit the Old Town at its most beautiful. (more…)

November 23, 2009 9:00 am | Link | 6 Comments »

Krummau, Crown of the Moldau

BY NOW THE denizens of this little corner of the web are surely aware of Krummau, the splendid castle and town that towers above the banks of the Moldau river in Bohemia. I was never particularly interested in Bohemia until Fr. Emerson came up to St Andrews and gave a talk on the Hapsburgs. Unfortunately, this was before they began to record the talks (and offer them online) as it was an excellent brief lecture that I’d love to revisit. Now Bohemia is one of my passions, in addition to an increasingly large burden of passions (Scotland, New York, Argentina, the Netherlands, South Africa, France, Hungary, Transylvania, Canada, Scandinavia, … ). The architecture is superb and varied, and of course the Duke of Krummau is none other than a certain Prague pol. The complex is no longer in the Schwarzenberg family, but is instead now the State Castle of Český Krumlov.

The Chapel of Saint George in the Castle once contained the skull and bones of Pope St. Callixtus I. The remains were obtained by the Emperor Charles IV, who gave them to the Rosenberg family who built the castle, from whom they (and the castle itself) passed to the Schwarzenbergs, only to be lost after 1614. Nonetheless, the skull of an unknown North African martyr came here in 1663, and tradition donated to the unknown saint the name of Callixtus also.

There is a long history of bear-keeping at Krummau, from at least the sixteenth century, and the castle has a specially devoted bear moat constructed in 1707. I am delighted to learn that this tradition has been revived by the current Czech overseers of the castle, who clearly are not mere bureaucrats but have a particular devotion to this magnificent place and its history.

The two adult ursine residents of Krummau are Vok and Kateřina. This aristocratic couple gave birth to their son Hubert, while the Zoological Park at Innsbruck has donated the young lady bear Marie Terezie. The bears of Krummau are an absolute delight to the children of the town, who sing carols to them at Yuletide, prepare them delicacies on holidays (under the supervision of the bear-keepers), and make sure that their bears never suffer for want of apples.

The castle also has on display the Golden Carriage of Duke Johann Anton I von Eggenberg, used during the Duke’s 1638 trip to Rome as envoy of the Holy Roman Emperor to Pope Urban VIII. The actual purpose of this coach was to convey the gifts of the Emperor to the Supreme Pontiff. The coach was sent to Hluboká by the Communist authorities, but it has been returned and restored, and rests in the Eggenberg Hall of the castle.

The magnificent Castle Theatre at Krummau is one of the stateliest court theatres in Europe. Among other current uses, it is home to the annual Festival of Baroque Arts organised by Hofmusici, a Czech ensemble of young musicians who perform Baroque-era music on period instruments. In addition to purely musical performances, baroque operas are performed in the Castle Theatre, for which the musicians dress in an appropriate court livery.

It is obvious that the best possible thing for a castle or palace is for a family with deep pockets and deep-rooted traditions to be in possession of it. We must rejoice nonetheless that at least in the case of the State Castle of Český Krumlov, this ancient gem has found caretakers who realise its peculiarity and preciousness.

October 29, 2009 8:12 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

Benedict in Bohemia and Moravia

A version of this piece was recently published at

THE HOLY FATHER, Pope Benedict XVI, recently travelled to the Czech Republic in a journey he described as “both a pilgrimage and a mission.” The ancient land of Bohemia was once at the very center of Christian civilization. It was from here that the brother saints Cyril and Methodius launched their mission to convert the Slavic world. From Prague, the realms of the Přemyslid and then Luxembourg dynasties were ruled, followed by the most illustrious house of Hapsburg. Oh to have been in Prague under the reign of the Emperor Rudolf II! With his mysterious court of astrologers and magicians and his cabinet of curiosities. With Arcimboldo, Spranger, Heintz, and Hans von Aachen putting paint to canvas, Giambologna and de Vries sculpting, while Kepler and Tycho Brahe searched the night skies. Centuries later, long after the nucleus of Hapsburg power had moved to Vienna, it was to Prague that the Emperor Ferdinand came following his abdication and remained until his death in 1875.

But of course there is the other Prague — the city of heresy, rebellion, and warfare. (more…)

October 16, 2009 10:00 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Prague Prince Propels Pristine Party

New Grouping May Hold Balance of Power After Next Bohemian Vote

PRINCE KARL VII, current head of the House of Schwarzenberg and sometime foreign minister of the Czech Republic, recently combined with other political colleagues to form a new party in time for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Bohemia. A number of supporters of the Christian & Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL) were disappointed with the selection of the left-leaning Cyril Svoboda as party chairman, and have formed a new conservative group, Tradice Odpovědnost Prosperita 09 or “Tradition Responsibility Prosperity ’09″.

Prince Karl — or Karel Schwarzenberg as he is known for electoral purposes — suggests that Bohemian voters have grown disenchanted with the current choice of political parties on offer. “The results of the last elections – the worst were the election to the European Parliament, but even the national elections – show that the degree of support for political parties by Czech citizens is going steadily down,” the Prince told Radio Prague.

“People are evidently not content with the parties that are offered to them, and they are more and more fed up. I read this in the e-mails I get and letters, and hear it in pubs and wherever. And as we think that there is still a lot of work to be done in our country, we decided to offer at least some alternative. That’s it.” (more…)

September 23, 2009 9:12 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

The Young Emperor

A reader notes in correspondence that Franz Joseph was not always old — though the popular conception certainly is of the Emperor in his later years. Here is the young Franz Joseph (or Ferenc József), just five years after he became Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Bohemia, &c. The Emperor became so at such a young age because his father, Ferdinand I, abdicated after the revolts of 1848.

This portrait is by the Hungarian painter Miklós Barabás, who also completed portraits of the composer Franz Liszt, the novelist Baron József Eötvös de Vásárosnamény, William Tierney Clark, the Bristol engineer responsible for Budapest’s famous Chain Bridge, and many, many others.

June 26, 2009 8:02 pm | Link | 4 Comments »
June 21, 2009 2:36 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Praying with the Kaisers


As I’m writing this column at the tail end of my first trip to Vienna, some of you who’ve read me before might expect a bittersweet love note to the Habsburgs — a tear-stained column that splutters about Blessed Karl and “good Kaiser Franz Josef,” calls this a “pilgrimage” like my 2008 trip to the Vatican, and celebrates the dynasty that for centuries, with almost perfect consistency, upheld the material interests and political teachings of the Church, until by 1914 it was the only important government in the world on which the embattled Pope Pius X could rely for solid support. Then I’d rant for a while about how the Empire was purposely targeted by the messianic maniac Woodrow Wilson, whose Social Gospel was the prototype for the poison that drips today from the White House onto the dome of Notre Dame.

And you would be right. That’s exactly what I plan to say — so dyed-in-the-wool Americanists who regard the whole of the Catholic political past as a dark prelude to the blazing sun that was John Courtenay Murray (or John F. Kennedy) might as well close their eyes for the next 1,500 words — as they have to the past 1,500 years.

But as I bang that kettle drum again, I want to set two scenes, one from a fine and underrated movie, the other from my visit. The powerful historical drama “Sunshine” (1999) stars Ralph Fiennes as three successive members of a prosperous Jewish family in Habsburg Budapest. The film was so ambitious as to try portraying the broad sweep of historical change — and, as a result, it was not especially popular. What historical dramas we moderns tend to like are confined to the tale of a single hero, and how he wreaks vengeance on the villains with English accents who outraged the woman he loved. “Sunshine”, on the other hand, tells the vivid story of the degeneration of European civilization in the course of a mere 40 years. The Sonnenschein family are the witnesses, and the victims, as the creaky multinational monarchy ruled by the tolerant, devoutly Catholic Habsburgs gives way through reckless war to a series of political fanaticisms — all of them driven by some version of Collectivism, which the great Austrian Catholic political philosopher Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddihn calls “the ideology of the Herd.”

From a dynasty that claimed its legitimacy as the representative of divine authority at the apex of a great, interconnected pyramid of Being in which the lowliest Croatian fisherman (like my grandpa) had liberties guaranteed by the same Christian God who legitimated the Kaiser’s throne, Central Europe fell prey to one strain after another of groupthink under arms: From the Red Terror imposed by Hungarian Bolsheviks who loved only members of a given social class, to radical Hungarian nationalists who loved only conformist members of their tribe, to Nazi collaborationists who wouldn’t settle for assimilating Jews but wished to kill them, finally to Stalinist stooges who ended up reviving tribal anti-Semitism. The exhaustion at the film’s end is palpable: In the same amount of time that separates us today from President Lyndon Johnson, the peoples of Central Europe went from the kindly Kaiser Franz Josef through Adolf Hitler to Josef Stalin. Call it Progress.

Apart from a heavily bureaucratic empire that spun its wheels preventing its dozens of ethnic minorities from cleansing each other’s villages, what was lost with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy? For one thing, we lost the last political link Western Christendom had with the heritage of the Holy Roman Empire. (Its crown stands today in the Imperial Treasury at the Hofburg, and for me it’s a civic relic.) Charlemagne’s co-creation with the pope of his day, that Empire had symbolized a number of principles we could do well remembering today: Principally, the Empire (and the other Christian monarchies that once acknowledged its authority) represented the lay counterpart to the papacy, a tangible sign that the State’s authority came not from mere popular opinion, or the whims of tyrants, but an unchangeable order of Being, rooted in divine revelation and natural law.

The job of protecting the liberty of the Church and enforcing (yes, enforcing) that Law fell not to the clergy but to laymen. The clergy were not a political party or a pressure group — but a separate Estate that often as not served as a counterbalance to the authority of the monarchy. No monarch was absolute under this system, but held his rights in tension with the traditional privileges of nobles, clergy, the citizens of free towns, and serfs who were guaranteed the security of their land. Until the Reformation destroyed the Church’s power to resist the whims of kings — who suddenly had the option of pulling their nation out of communion with the pope — no king would have had the power or authority to rule with anything like the monarchical power of a U.S. president. Of course, no medieval monarch wielded 25-40 percent of his subjects’ wealth, or had the power to draft their children for foreign wars. It took the rise of democratic legal theory, as Hans Herman Hoppe has pointed out, to convince people that the State was really just an extension of themselves: a nice way to coax folks into allowing the State ever increasing dominance over their lives.

A Christian monarchy, whatever its flaws, was at least constrained in its abuses of power by certain fundamental principles of natural and canon law; when these were violated, as often they were, the abuse was clear to all, and the monarchy often suffered. In extreme cases, kings could be deposed. Today, by contrast, priests in Germany receive their salaries from the State, collected in taxes from citizens who check the “Catholic” box. So much for the independence of the clergy.

The House of Austria ruled the last regime in Europe that bound itself by such traditional strictures, which took for granted that its family and social policies must pass muster in the Vatican. By contrast, in the racially segregated America of 1914, eugenicists led by Margaret Sanger were already gearing up to impose mandatory sterilization in a dozen U.S. states (as they would succeed in doing by 1930), while Prohibitionist clergymen and Klansmen (they worked together on this) were getting ready to close all the bars. As historian Richard Gamble has written, in 1914 the United States was the most “progressive” and secular government in the world — and by 1918, it was one of the most conservative. We didn’t shift; the spectrum did.

Dismantled by angry nationalists who set up tiny and often intolerant regimes that couldn’t defend themselves, nearly every inch of Franz-Josef’s realm would fall first into the hands of Adolf Hitler, then those of Josef Stalin. Today, these realms are largely (not wholly) secularized, exhausted perhaps by the enervating and brutal history they have suffered, interested largely in the calm and meaningless comfort offered by modern capitalism, rendered safer and even duller by the buffer of socialist insurance. The peoples who once thrilled to the agonies and ecstasies carved into the stone churches here in Vienna can now barely rouse the energy to reproduce themselves. Make war? Making love seems barely worth the tussle or the nappies. Over in America, we’re equally in love with peace and comfort — although we’ve a slightly higher (market-driven?) tolerance for risk, and hence a higher birthrate. For the moment.

Speaking of children brings me to the most haunting image I will take away from Austria. I spent a whole afternoon exploring the most beautiful Catholic church I have ever seen — including those in Rome — the Steinhof, built by Jugendstil architect Otto Wagner and designed by Kolomon Moser. An exquisite balance of modern, almost Art-Deco elements with the classical traditions of church architecture, it seems to me clear evidence that we could have built reverent modern places of worship, ones that don’t simply ape the past. And we still can. A little too modern for Kaiser Franz, the place was funded, the kindly tour guide told me in broken English, by the Viennese bourgeoisie. (Since my family only recently clawed its way into that social class, I felt a little surge of pride.) Apart from the stunning sanctuary, the most impressive element in the church is the series of stained-glass windows depicting the seven Spiritual and the seven Corporal Works of Mercy — each with a saint who embodied a given work. All this was especially moving given the function of the Steinhof, which served and serves as the chapel of Vienna’s mental hospital. (It wasn’t so easy getting a tour!) The church was made exquisite, the guide explained, intentionally to remind the patients that their society hadn’t abandoned them. Moser does more than Sig Freud can to reconcile God’s ways to man.

We see in the chapel the spirit of Franz Josef’s Austria, the pre-modern mythos that grants man a sacred place in a universe where he was created a little lower than the angels — and an emperor stands only in a different spot, with heavier burdens facing a harsher judgment than his subjects. No wonder Franz Josef slept on a narrow cot in an apartment that wouldn’t pass muster on New York’s Park Avenue, rose at 4 a.m. to work, and granted an audience to any subject who requested it. He knew that he faced a Judge who isn’t impressed by crowns.

As we left the church, I asked the guide about a plaque I’d seen but couldn’t quite ken, and her face grew suddenly solemn. “That is the next part of the tour.” She explained to me and the group the purpose of the Spiegelgrund Memorial. It stands in the part of the hospital once reserved for what we’d call “exceptional children,” those with mental or physical handicaps. While Austria was a Christian monarchy, such children were taught to busy themselves with crafts and educated as widely as their handicaps permitted. The soul of each, as Franz Josef would freely have admitted, was equal to the emperor’s. But in 1939, Austria didn’t have an emperor anymore. It dwelt under the democratically elected, hugely popular leader of a regime that justly called itself “socialist.” The ethos that prevailed was a weird mix of romanticism and cold utilitarian calculation, one which shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to us. It worried about the suffering of lebensunwertes Leben, or “life unworthy of life”–a phrase we might as well revive in our democratic country that aborts 90 percent of Down’s Syndrome children diagnosed in utero. So the Spiegelgrund was transformed from a rehabilitation center to one that specialized in experimentation. As the Holocaust memorial site Nizkor documents:

In Nazi Austria, parents were encouraged to leave their disabled children in the care of people like [Spiegelgrund director] Dr. Heinrich Gross. If the youngsters had been born with defects, wet their beds, or were deemed unsociable, the neurobiologist killed them and removed their brains for examination. . . .

Children were killed because they stuttered, had a harelip, had eyes too far apart. They died by injection or were left outdoors to freeze or were simply starved.

Dr. Gross saved the children’s brains for “research” (not on stem cells, we must hope). All this, a few hundred feet from the windows depicting the Works of Mercy. Of course, they’d been replaced by the works of Modernity.

We’re much more civilized about this sort of thing nowadays, as the guests at Dr. George Tiller’s secular canonization can testify. In true American fashion, our genocide is libertarian and voluntarist, enacted for profit and covered by insurance.

I will think of the children of the Spiegelgrund tomorrow, as I spend the morning in the Kapuzinkirche, where the Habsburg emperors are buried — and the Fraternity of St. Peter say a daily Latin Mass. As I pray the canon my ancestors prayed and venerate the emperors they revered, I will beg the good Lord for some respite from all the Progress we’ve enjoyed.

Blessed Karl I, ora pro nobis.

[Dr. John Zmirak‘s column appears every week at]

June 16, 2009 8:14 pm | Link | 16 Comments »

The Coronation of Blessed Charles

Blessed Emperor Charles was crowned as Apostolic King of Hungary on the 30th of December in 1916. It was the last Hapsburg coronation to this day. For those interested there are two accounts which do justice to the sacred rites. One is by that most devoted admirer of the Hapsburgs, Gordon Brook-Shepherd, in his excellent biography of Charles, The Last Hapsburg. (Brook-Shepherd also wrote excellent and quite readable biographies of the Empress Zita, of Crown Prince Otto, of Chancellor Dollfuß, and Baron Sir Rudolf von Slatin Pasha).


October 21, 2008 8:46 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Charles & Zita

October 21 was chosen as the Feast of the Blessed Emperor Charles not because it is the date of his death — which is 1 April 1922 — but rather to commemorate the marriage (photo, below) between Archduke Charles of Austria (as he was then) and Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma in 1911. While Charles died a mere thirty-four years of age, Zita lived on to ninety-six before passing away in 1989 (when I myself was four).

Not very long ago I was in Quebec City, which was where the Empress Zita and the Imperial Family spent their exile during the Second World War. The Hapsburgs, dispossessed first by the Socialists and then by the Nazis, were then so poor they had to collect dandelions from which to make a soup, but they took poverty in their stride. Passing a grassy bit near the Chateau Frontenac, I wondered “Did Crown Prince Otto once pluck weeds from this plot to feed his hungry mother and siblings?”

Also in that ancient Canadian city is La Citadelle, that great hunk of stone and earthworks, perhaps the oldest operational military installation in the New World. There we were lucky enough to be granted access to the tomb of the greatest Canadian, Major General the Rt. Hon. Georges-Philéas Vanier, Governor-General of Canada from 1959 until his death in 1967. General Vanier and his wife had such a reputation for Christian charity and piety that the Vatican is collecting evidence towards their eventual recognition as saints. Their son is Jean Vanier, the founder of the famous l’Arche communities that care for the handicapped and the disabled. I wonder if the Hapsburgs and the Vaniers ever crossed paths in wartime Quebec…

Charles of Austria
pray for us!

October 21, 2008 8:12 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

‘The man who walked’

The Daily Telegraph — 6 September 2008
At 18 he left home to walk the length of Europe; at 25, as an SOE agent, he kidnapped the German commander of Crete; now at 93, Patrick Leigh Fermor, arguably the greatest living travel writer, is publishing the nearest he may come to an autobiography – and finally learning to type. William Dalrymple meets him at home in Greece

‘You’ve got to bellow a bit,’ Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor said, inclining his face in my direction, and cupping his ear. ‘He’s become an economist? Well, thank God for that. I thought you said he’d become a Communist.’

He took a swig of retsina and returned to his lemon chicken.

‘I’m deaf,’ he continued. ‘That’s the awful truth. That’s why I’m leaning towards you in this rather eerie fashion. I do have a hearing aid, but when I go swimming I always forget about it until I’m two strokes out, and then it starts singing at me. I get out and suck it, and with luck all is well. But both of them have gone now, and that’s one reason why I am off to London next week. Glasses, too. Running out of those very quickly. Occasionally, the one that is lost is found, but their numbers slowly diminish…’

He trailed off. ‘The amount that can go wrong at this age – you’ve no idea. This year I’ve acquired something called tunnel vision. Very odd, and sometimes quite interesting. When I look at someone I can see four eyes, one of them huge and stuck to the side of the mouth. Everyone starts looking a bit like a Picasso painting.’

He paused and considered for a moment, as if confronted by the condition for the first time. ‘And, to be honest, my memory is not in very good shape either. Anything like a date or a proper name just takes wing, and quite often never comes back. Winston Churchill – couldn’t remember his name last week.

‘Even swimming is a bit of a trial now,’ he continued, ‘thanks to this bloody clock thing they’ve put in me – what d’they call it? A pacemaker. It doesn’t mind the swimming. But it doesn’t like the steps on the way down. Terrific nuisance.’

We were sitting eating supper in the moonlight in the arcaded L-shaped cloister that forms the core of Leigh Fermor’s beautiful house in Mani in southern Greece. Since the death of his beloved wife Joan in 2003, Leigh Fermor, known to everyone as Leigh Fermor, has lived here alone in his own Elysium with only an ever-growing clowder of darting, mewing, paw-licking cats for company. He is cooked for and looked after by his housekeeper, Elpida, the daughter of the inn-keeper who was his original landlord when he came to Mani for the first time in 1962.

It is the most perfect writer’s house imaginable, designed and partially built by Leigh Fermor himself in an old olive grove overlooking a secluded Mediterranean bay. It is easy to see why, despite growing visibly frailer, he would never want to leave. Buttressed by the old retaining walls of the olive terraces, the whitewashed rooms are cool and airy and lined with books; old copies of the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books lie scattered around on tables between Attic vases, Indian sculptures and bottles of local ouzo.

A study filled with reference books and old photographs lies across a shady courtyard. There are cicadas grinding in the cypresses, and a wonderful view of the peaks of the Taygetus falling down to the blue waters of the Aegean, which are so clear it is said that in some places you can still see the wrecks of Ottoman galleys lying on the seabed far below.

There is a warm smell of wild rosemary and cypress resin in the air; and from below comes the crash of the sea on the pebbles of the foreshore. Yet there is something unmistakably melancholy in the air: a great traveller even partially immobilised is as sad a sight as an artist with failing vision or a composer grown hard of hearing.

I had driven down from Athens that morning, through slopes of olives charred and blackened by last year’s forest fires. I arrived at Kardamyli late in the evening. Although the area is now almost metropolitan in feel compared to what it was when Leigh Fermor moved here in the 1960s (at that time he had to move the honey-coloured Taygetus stone for his house to its site by mule as there was no road) it still feels wonderfully remote and almost untouched by the modern world.

When Leigh Fermor first arrived in Mani in 1962 he was known principally as a dashing commando. At the age of 25, as a young agent of Special Operations Executive (SOE), he had kidnapped the German commander in Crete, General Kreipe, and returned home to a Distinguished Service Order and movie version of his exploits, Ill Met by Moonlight (1957) with Dirk Bogarde playing him as a handsome black-shirted guerrilla.

It was in this house that Leigh Fermor made the startling transformation – unique in his generation – from war hero to literary genius. To meet, Leigh Fermor may still have the speech patterns and formal manners of a British officer of a previous generation; but on the page he is a soaring prose virtuoso with hardly a single living equal.

It was here in the isolation and beauty of Kardamyli that Leigh Fermor developed his sublime prose style, and here that he wrote most of the books that have made him widely regarded as the world’s greatest travel writer, as well as arguably our finest living prose-poet. While his densely literary and cadent prose style is beyond imitation, his books have become sacred texts for several generations of British writers of non-fiction, including Bruce Chatwin, Colin Thubron, Philip Marsden, Nicholas Crane and Rory Stewart, all of whom have been inspired by the persona he created of the bookish wanderer: the footloose scholar in the wilds, scrambling through remote mountains, a knapsack full of books on his shoulder.


September 14, 2008 6:24 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

A Miracle from Blessed Charles

Vatican to Review Case of Inexplicable Healing of Florida Woman

The seemingly inexplicable healing of a Baptist woman from Florida may provide the miracle necessary for the canonization of Emperor Charles of Austria. The woman, in her mid-50s, suffered from breast cancer and was bedridden after the cancer had spread to her liver and bones. Despite treatment and hospitalization, doctors diagnosed her case as terminal. But after intercessory prayers to the Emperor Charles, the woman (who wishes to maintain her privacy and remain unnamed) was completely healed.

The story begins when Joseph and Paula Melançon, a married couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and friends of the healed woman, travelled to Austria, where they met Archduke Karl Peter, son of Archduke Rudolf, and grandson of the holy Emperor Charles. The Archduke invited the couple to his grandfather’s beatification in Rome in 2004. Mrs. Melançon gave the novena to Blessed Charles to her sister-in-law, Vanessa Lynn O’Neill of Atlanta.

“I knew that when I got that novena — I knew that my mother’s best friend was sick — I just knew at that moment that it was something I was going to do,” Mrs. O’Neill told the Florida Catholic in an interview. “And that is how I got started, I just prayed the novena.”

The woman’s recovery was investigated by an official church tribunal consisting of Father Fernando Gil (judicial vicar of the Diocese of Orlando), Father Gregory Parkes (chancellor of canonical affairs of the Diocese), Father Larry Lossing, diocesan notary Delma Santiago, as well as an unnamed medical doctor. The tribunal examined the evidence at hand and invited the participation of medical experts, who could find no earthly explanation for the woman’s recovery.

“Other alleged miracles attributed to the intercession of Blessed Karl I are currently being investigated in different places in the world,” Fr. Gil said.

The sixteen-month investigation has now concluded, and the conclusions have been signed by the participants, sealed, and placed in special boxes which are then themselves tied, sealed with wax, and sent to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in Rome via diplomatic pouch. The Congregation will examine the case further and then present its findings to Pope Benedict XVI, who will decided if a miracle has taken place. If the Pope is convinced by the evidence, then the Emperor’s canonization can proceed.

The future emperor, 1889

Blessed Charles’s reign as Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary began in November 1916 during the First World War. The Emperor realized the heavy toll the Christian countries were suffering and almost immediately began to make peace manouevers. The insane obstinacy of both his German allies and the enemy alliance of France, Great Britain, and the United States, however, meant that Charles’s multiple attempts to negotiate a mutually-acceptable end to the war were not even considered.

After the war, President Woodrow Wilson insisted on dismantling the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Emperor was forced into exile, first in Switzerland and finally, after two attempts to regain his Hungarian throne, on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Charles had always been particularly devout, and his devotion to God only increased when he caught a severe case of pneumonia on Madeira. He died from the illness in April 1922.

The English writer Herbert Vivian wrote that Charles was “a great leader, a prince of peace, who wanted to save the world from a year of war; a statesman with ideas to save his people from the complicated problems of his empire; a king who loved his people, a fearless man, a noble soul, distinguished, a saint from whose grave blessings come.”

Even Anatole France, the radical French intellectual and novelist, wrote “Emperor Karl is the only decent man to come out of the war in a leadership position, yet he was a saint and no one listened to him. He sincerely wanted peace, and therefore was despised by the whole world. It was a wonderful chance that was lost.”

Recent history has come to fulfil the expectations of Pope St. Pius X, who received Charles when the Austrian was a young archduke and not in direct line to succeed to the throne, saying “I bless Archduke Charles, who will be the future Emperor of Austria and will help lead his countries and peoples to great honor and many blessings–but this will not become obvious until after his death.”

April 14, 2008 1:43 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Krummau on the Moldau

Český Krumlov Revisited

THE CASTLE OF Krummau in Bohemia stands majestically on its crag in a bend of the Moldau river, presiding confidently over the town below. Český Krumlov, as the town is known in the currently-reigning Czech language, began in the thirteenth century under the Rosenberg family and was purchased by the Emperor Rudolf II in 1602. Yet it was under the princely house of Schwarzenberg (proprietors of Krumau from 1719 to 1945) that the castle flourished. The name Český Krumlov means Bohemian Krummau, to differentiate it from a Moravian town of the same name. (It is also often rendered as Krumau or Krumau-an-der-Moldau).

While the advent of Communism deprived the Schwarzenbergs of this great castle and numerous other vast properties of theirs behind the Iron Curtain, the Schwarzenbergs have since regained their natural prominence in Bohemia. His Serene Highness Prince Karl VII of Schwarzenberg, Duke of Krummau, Count of Sulz, Princely Landgrave of Kelttgau currently serves his country as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, as well as being a member of the Czech Senate which convenes in the Wallenstein Palace in Prague. For the sake of convenience, however, His Serene Highness goes by ‘Karel Schwarzenberg’. (more…)

December 17, 2007 9:12 pm | Link | 10 Comments »

Our Holy Emperor

OCTOBER 21 IS the feast of Blessed Charles of Austria, the saintly emperor of that sacred realm whose life stands as an example of the price of sanctity. Charles worked tirelessly for peace both between the peoples of his own numerous realms and between all the nations, seeking to bring to an end the ceaseless and suicidal slaughter of the Great War, in the midst of which he had ascended to the throne of his fathers. A defender of social order, Charles reminds us of our many responsibilities to each other, even though the spirit of our current age would have us clamor only for our supposed rights. In the face of repeated betrayal and intense pressure, he refused to abdicate and so abandon his peoples to their fates, which were terrible indeed. That terrible cross he bore, the crown, was in fact a penitential grace, the sufferings he bore for the benefit of his – and indeed all – people. His reward was not in this world.


October 23, 2006 9:00 am | Link | 21 Comments »

Glen Hansen’s Praha

Glen Hansen, Praha – Church of St. Nicholas
Oil on panel, 32″ x 32″
2005, Fischbach Gallery

Glen Hansen, Praha – Trilogy (Homage to Agnes Martin)
Oil on panel, 24″ x 24″
2005, Fischbach Gallery

“Praha” is on display through Saturday, April 15 at the Fischbach Gallery, 210 Eleventh Ave., between 24th and 25th streets. Tue.–Fri., 10:00am–5:30pm, Sat, 10:00am–6:00pm, 212-759-2345, free.

March 20, 2006 5:30 am | Link | No Comments »

The Remarkable Hapsburgs

Last night, Fr. Emerson popped up from Edinburgh and gave a talk on the Hapsburg dynasty. It was tremendously interesting. I learned so much I hadn’t known before and it opened up a terrific number of avenues of information down which I have only begun to stroll.

I had no idea how remarkable a man Franz Ferdinand was. All they teach you in America is “This is the guy who got shot” instead of “This man would have been the savior of all that is good and holy in Europe.”

I have seen and read a lot of what Europe is today; Fr. Emerson gave us a glimpse of what Europe was yesterday, before the utter destruction of the social order of the continent by that moment in Sarajevo and everything that came after it. Knowing what Europe was, how depressing to see it now!

It also filled me with some optimism, oddly enough. I used to be partly in the school of thought that’s convinced that Europe is lost. If this is how Europe was, surely it could be again? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Anyhow, after the talk, Fr Emerson enlightened me as to a few of the architectural marvels of Mitteleuropa. Above is the Cathedral of St. Barbara in Kuttenberg (Kutna Hora), resembling a galleon in full sail.

And the same in 1921.

Krummau (Cesky Krumlov) is home to a remarkable castle that runs along a ridge across the river from the old town.

This adds a whole slate to my list of places to visit. I really need to get to Italy and Germany/Austria, and now Bohemia as well.

November 25, 2004 1:08 pm | Link | 1 Comment »
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