Reliquary of Emperor Charles I placed in St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague
Leading dignitaries, such as the current head of the Habsburg-Lorraine family Charles, or the charge d’affaires of the Apostolic Nuncio to the Czech Republic Giuseppe Silvestrini, could be seen on Sunday at Prague Castle on the occasion of the pose of a reliquary of the last king of Bohemia, Charles I, in St. Vitus Cathedral.
Charles I died of pneumonia as an exiled monarch on the island of Madeira aged 34 on April 1, 1922 – exactly 100 years ago.
The head of the Czech branch of the Knights of St. George in the Czech Republic, Dr. Milan Novák, claims that the reliquary contains part of Charles I’s rib.
“While Charles I was beatified, his tomb was opened and one of his ribs was collected. The bone was then moved to the Vatican, where individual pieces of the rib were placed in reliquaries. These are now in use to honor and venerate the deceased monarch as a beatified Christian.
Charles I was declared ‘blessed’ in a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square by Pope John Paul II in 2004. Charles was described as a ‘Christian statesman’ by the pope who has since been declared holy himself.
Dr. Novák says Charles’ peace efforts during World War I are particularly prescient at the present time. The monarch assumed power on November 21, 1916, replacing Emperor Franz Joseph, and ruled for less than two years until the breakup of the Habsburg state.
“He inherited a multi-ethnic empire of 50 million people in the heart of Europe at a time of widespread global slaughter. A Christian at heart and soul, he could not accept what was happening, so he went to great lengths to end the conflict.
“He also tried to ease the burden of war on the general population. Austria-Hungary was therefore the first country in the world to seek institutional solutions to these problems. Charles I founded the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs. It was the first initiative of its kind in Europe.
Although he was never officially crowned king of the Czech Republic, Charles I lived for several years in Bohemia before becoming crown prince, says Dr Novák.
“He spent four years of his life in the Czech castle of Brandýs nad Labem [where he moved in in 1908 after being commissioned as a dragoons officer]. He lived near Stará Boleslav, the place of martyrdom of the Czech patron saint, Duke Wenceslas. As a practicing Catholic, he was very much initiated into this Czech tradition and identified with it. He also spoke Czech very well.
Although 19th-century Czech politicians such as František Palacký were very open to the idea of a reformed Austro-Hungarian monarchy, by the time of World War I the circle around the future first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was resolutely independentist. . Charles would try to reclaim the Hungarian crown, but would fail, partly due to Czechoslovak reluctance to allow a Habsburg to return to a Central European throne.
With his wife, Zita de Bourbon-Parme, Charles had eight children. One of them was the heir to the Habsburg throne Otto von Habsburg, who would later become a strong supporter of European integration.
The Treasury of Saint Wenceslas includes the skull of the patron saint of the country, as well as that of his grandmother Saint Ludmila and a reliquary of Saint Adalbert.