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Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Habsburg Emperor Still Lives: Discovering Karl, High in the Alps

By:   Olivia Rao
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Blessed Karl of Austria Blessed Karl of Austria

During a recent trip to the South Tyrolean Dolomites in Northern Italy, my family and I spent the night in Cortina D’Ampezzo – a town high up in the mountains which became wildly popular in the world of sports (especially in skiing and biking) after hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics. Originally part of Austria before being ceded to Italy at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the South Tyrol remains very Austrian in its culture and traditions, with its major languages being German, Italian, and a local language called “Ladin,” itself divided into dialects by village. The town of Cortina D’Ampezzo survives primarily on tourism, and much of its old charm and authenticity has given way to the kitsch and insincerity of souvenir shops and high-end restaurants targeting the thousands of vacationers who arrive there every winter. Of course, in the way that touristed European towns such as these often tend to, there do remain some small parts of the town frequented by locals who uphold the various traditions of the area and can provide a glimpse into the type of old Catholic life that would have been lived there in times past. It was in one of these small corners of the town that we had an experience which reminded us of the providence of Our Lord, the mysterious ways in which He works, and the unexpected mediums through which He spreads His message of hope and salvation.

The one morning we spent in Cortina D’Ampezzo, we strolled around the town trying to find a quiet place in which we could grab a coffee and a quick bite to eat before hitting the road again. We settled upon a small, local café and walked inside. To our surprise, we were greeted in the back dining area by a portrait of Blessed Karl of Austria, mounted prominently in the center of the wall. I excitedly pointed out the portrait to my mother, and our conversation attracted the attention of an old man sitting in the corner of the room, reading a newspaper. “That is Blessed Karl of Austria,” he said, looking up from his paper.

Olive karl

“The last Catholic emperor. His last act was to receive the Eucharist, and he died with Christ in union with the Church.” The old man, who began by addressing us in German and then switched to Italian, went on to explain to us that he was a member of the “Schützenkompanie Šizar Anpezo Hayden” – a local traditional rifle regiment of Cortina D’Ampezzo which had, at his request, adopted the emperor as their company’s patron. Through his encouragement, the regiment became committed to the cause of this last truly Catholic emperor, and he became a symbol of their dedication to their Catholic faith, to the Sacred Heart, and to Christendom. The old man told us that the regiment even modified their flag to include the image of the Sacred Heart. At this, he looked to us for confirmation that we still understood what he was talking about, and we showed him the Sacred Heart pins which Michael Matt had been so kind as to distribute to us at the recent initiation of the League of the Sacred Heart [Click HERE for more details on the League]. He, in return, proudly produced his miraculous medal, and we spent an amusing several seconds comparing the many emblems of our faith which we wore around our necks.

Happy to meet fellow Catholics who shared his love for his hero, and eager to continue the conversation further (in the way that old men always are), he offered to buy us all cappuccini – “It’s for the emperor,” he said.

Over coffee, he told us more about his devotion to the emperor and all that he had done to promote his cause in the town. We learned that it was he himself who had mounted the portrait on the wall of the cafe – of which he was not, incidentally, the proprietor. He sits every morning in that little room, which he has dubbed “The Salon of the Emperor,” equipped with prayer cards of the emperor, translated into Italian and German, to pass out to those who express interest. He offered to bring to the cafe the next morning for us a copy of the biography he had written of Otto von Hapsburg, the son of Emperor Karl, which had been published in German, Italian, and Ladino (the language of the area). Unfortunately, however, we were leaving the Dolomites that same day to return to Lake Garda, and we told him about our organization, the Roman Forum, and the Summer Symposium which we host every year in Gardone Riviera. We informed him of the mission of the organization, and we explained to him that we offer the Latin Mass every day. His face lit up at the mention of Latin, and he proudly explained to us that he still says all of his prayers in Latin every day.

When it came time for us to leave, he told us that he had something important to show us, and we followed him down the street to a nearby restaurant (of which, again, he was not the proprietor), where he had set up yet another small shrine to Blessed Karl. This time, the portrait of the emperor was accompanied by one of Andreas Hofer, the famous Catholic counterrevolutionary hero of the Tyrol, and a picture and description of the medallion of his own regiment. He graciously allowed us to take his photograph, which I include here.

Olive guy

We parted ways with plans to keep in touch, and he promised to mail his book on Otto von Hapsburg to us in New York City.


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Last modified on Saturday, July 21, 2018