Eternal Love: The Hearts of Karl and Zita Enshrined Together
By Zita Ballinger Fletcher
The love story of Blessed Emperor Karl and his wife Zita lives on in Muri Abbey, Switzerland, where the couple’s hearts are enshrined together.
Karl and Zita were married on October 21, 1911, after a brief courtship. They enjoyed a happy union for 10 years. Their love withstood the ravages of war, gossip, and political strife. They strongly supported each other and had the courage to raise a family amid the turmoil, having 8 children together.
The couple shared many common interests, including their religious faith. Karl proposed to Zita at the Shrine of Mariazell in Austria. They inscribed a prayer to the Mother of God on their wedding rings, “Sub tuum presidium confugimus, sancta Dei Genitrix” (“We fly to take refuge under your protection, O Holy Mother of God.”)
Zita and Karl were inseparable during their lifetime. Zita accompanied her husband everywhere and supported him in all his heavy responsibilities. She was with him on November 21, 1916, when he became the Emperor of Austria after the death of his great uncle Franz Joseph I. She even traveled with him to battlefields during the First World War. She remained courageously at his side during his times of political unpopularity and poverty, and took care of him unceasingly during his final illness and death in exile.
In keeping with their devotion to each other and their faith in the Holy Mother of God, the hearts of Karl and his Zita are interred in the Marian chapel to Our Lady of Loreto in Muri Abbey, Switzerland.
The custom of heart burial was common in Europe, especially during the Middle Ages. The heart was often separated from the rest of the body due to the spiritual significance of the heart and also the fact that it was easy to transport to distant places. Hearts are usually stored in special vessels and interred in places of great importance to the deceased. Heart burials were also a long-standing custom of the Habsburg royal family.
Muri Abbey, dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, is a Benedictine monastery near Basel, Switzerland. It was founded in 1027 A.D., built with the support of the Habsburgs, and inhabited by Benedictine monks for over 800 years. The church interior is today one of the most impressive examples of religious baroque architecture in all of Switzerland.
The hearts of Karl and Zita are enshrined behind the altar in the Loreto Chapel, a small and simple chapel near the monastery garden. Overlooking the tiny room is a picture of Our Lady of the Bowed Head, the couple’s favorite religious image during their lifetime. A bust of Karl stands in the corner near a small prayer space for visitors. Plaques on the wall memorialize the life, death and endless love of the royal couple. On her commemoratory plaque, Empress Zita’s motto reads: “Plus pour vous que pour moi” (“More for you than for me”), a statement she demonstrated to Karl with her life.
Zita’s body is buried among the Habsburg imperial family in the Capuchin Crypt in Vienna, while Karl’s body remains at the site of his exile on Madeira in Portugal. Karl’s last words to Zita were: “I love you so much.” Although they are interred separately, their hearts remain buried together in symbol of their eternal love.
Zita Ballinger Fletcher is a journalist for CNS (Catholic News Service) who resides in Europe. She was named after Empress Zita and took the name Karl as her confirmation patron. She is devotee and member of the Emperor Karl League of Prayer for Peace Among Nations.