Upon the end of his life in 1519, Emperor Maximilian I was obsessed with death. In his last five years of life, whenever he traveled he carried his coffin with him and left grotesque instructions of mutilation to his body when he died and for it to be “publicly displayed to show the perishableness of all earthly glory.”
He also wished to be buried in the castle chapel in Wiener Neustadt. He envisioned a grand tomb, surrounded by 28 life-size statues of of his ancestors, real and mythical, lining his grave in a mock funeral procession.
Work on the figures began in 1502, but by 1519, only 11 had been completed. Still, molding and carving continued, financed by Maximilian’s son, Charles V, and his grandson, Ferdinand I. Over the next several decades, more black figures were added to the lineup, the last one completed in 1555.
As the progress grew, it became apparent that they would not fit into the the small, “temporary” space in Wiener Neustadt, so Ferdinand I began building a new tomb and monastery for his grandfather in Innsbruck. Completed in 1553, the gothic building was named the Hofkirche (Court Church), it was eventually fitted with a massive marble mausoleum and decorated in kingly riches.
The completed statues line the center, forged in black bronze. Now known as the “black men,” despite including several women, the noted individuals range from famous dukes and duchesses, to Holy Roman Emperors, Queens, and even mythical heroes such as King Arthur. Several are considered masterpieces of sculpture and metal work.
Unfortunately, they are cursed to watch over an empty grave. Despite the lavishness and splendor of the church, Maximillian’s remains were never brought to this sacred place and remain in their small, quaint original resting place 325 miles away.
Know Before You Go
The entrance to the church is through the side visitor’s door. It is open Mon-Sat 9-5, and Sundays 12:30-5. Entrance is €7.00.