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TOP TEN THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN VIENNA IN DECEMBER

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Vienna gets lots of visitors in December and that’s not too surprising because the city is beautiful this time of year. Here’s the top 10 things you’ll want to do and see while here in December to get the most of your visit.

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    1. Visit a Christmas Market. With over 20 markets to choose from, there’s something for everyone. Here’s a list of Vienna Christmas markets from my 2014 post with links. Note that the special events have probably changed but otherwise the markets and descriptions usually stay pretty consistent year for year.
    2. Indulge in some Glühwein while at that market. For your own Glühwein recipe – check out my “How to make Glühwein” post.

      Gluehwein at Schönnbrunn Castle Christmas Market - photo courtesy of M. Gardzina

      Gluehwein at Schönnbrunn Castle Christmas Market – photo courtesy of M. Gardzina

    3. Have lunch at Cafe Central – they have what’s called a “Menü” option on the weekdays and it is usually a soup and a main meal consisting of a meat or non-meat dish and rather reasonably priced. Be sure to make reservations or you might have to wait for a table or not get one at all. You can write to them for reservations at the email address on the Cafe Central website but reservations are only valid if you receive a confirmation email (usually pretty quick response time).
    4. See the mosaic of the Last Supper. Do this after your visit to Cafe Central, since the Minoritenkirche with the mosaic is a two minute walk up the road from the Cafe.  More about this amazing piece of art work in my post: “Napoleon, Jesus and the Free Masons: the Last Supper in Vienna.”
    5. Have an authentic Austrian dinner in one of Vienna’s oldest restaurants – the Griechenbeisl. Again, reservations are a necessity. Check out my post about the Greichenbeisl restaurant entitled, “If the Walls Could Speak – A Schnitzel with Turkish Invaders, Beethoven, Twain and Johnny Cash.”

      Fancy Schmancy Aida Krapfen

      Fancy Schmancy Aida Krapfen

    6. Try a Krapfen. Don’t know what that is? Kind of like a apricot jam filled doughnut – more on the subject here: “Krapfen – Getting Fat in Honor of Fat Tuesday.”
    7. Definitely, definitely, visit a Coffeehouse to catch your breath, read a newspaper, discuss the world, and maybe even have some coffee. These two posts should help you with that: This one has a list of choice coffeehouses: “Vienna and her Coffeehouses – Sit Back and Smell the Coffee,” and this one describes a bit of the coffeehouse culture: “Place to Visit in Vienna – Coffeehouses.”
    8.  Digest some art and see some museums. Check out my post “Things to See in Vienna – Art Museums and Street Art.”

      Entrance to the Griechenbeisl

      Entrance to the Griechenbeisl

    9. Visit the Austrian National Treasury and check out some amazing artifacts like the legendary holy lance/ Spear of Destiny. More about that on my post:”The Holy Lance (“Spear of Destiny”) & the Power to Rule the World.”
    10. Take a stroll through the park of the Schönbrunn Castle and be sure to hike the hill behind the castle up to the gorgeous Gloriette where you can have a hot cocoa and if you’re timing is right, listen to some live piano music.
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IMPERIAL VIENNA – Places to Visit in Vienna

It might sound like a bit of a fairy tale that a landlocked nation with a population of just 8.5 million people wedged amid seven other countries was once the heart of an empire so grand that “the sun never set.” It’s been almost a century since the Habsburg’s 640 year rule ended, but remnants of Austria’s multicultural empire linger on and can be readily identified as a heritage that distinguishes Austria from its German-speaking neighbors of Germany and Switzerland.

VIENNA PALACES

One of the most obvious indicators of Austria’s royal past is the collection of palaces in Vienna. The Imperial Palace in Vienna’s first district, the emperor’s summer palace at Schönbrunn, and the two palaces of the Belvedere (the Upper and Lower Palace) serve as just a few of the reminders.

IMPERIAL TREASURY OF VIENNA (SCHATZKAMMER)

Like most royal families, in addition to palaces, the Habsburg liked to collect other treasures. The most impressive of these items can be viewed at the Imperial Treasury of Vienna (Schatzkammer). Besides crown jewels, royal robes, and holy lances, you’ll find vestments of the Golden Fleece. Particularly interesting are Habsburg heirlooms, which were often acquired by knights during the Crusades. Although the unicorn horn displayed might make you wonder if the knights didn’t get a little carried away in their bounty claims. (Franz: If we return empty-handed, the emperor is bound to say no to our next crusade bid and I couldn’t stand another winter of the Missus nagging for me to fix the well. Hans: Fine, then let’s give him this (picks up a stone). We’ll tell him it’s a unicorn horn. I wager that none of his lordship’s relatives in Germany or England can boast a unicorn horn). Ahh, the old “it’s a unicorn horn” trick.

The Holy Cross and the Holy Lance

The Holy Cross and the Holy Lance displayed side by side in the Imperial Treasury

But who amongst us can truly deny the romantic mysticism, ala Dan Brown and Indiana Jones, when up close and personal with age old legends like the Spear of Destiny, and the Holy Grail.

SPANISH RIDING SCHOOL OF VIENNA

And what good is a fancy royal robe and magic sword without a beautiful white horse to show them off on? The Spanish Riding School still shows perfect performances of white Lipizzaner horses selectively bred for centuries. An interesting historical note about these gorgeous creatures is that at the end of WWII, famous American cowboy and soldier, General Patton, rescued them from what may have very well been an abrupt end on Marshal Konev’s dinner table washed down with a shot of vodka.

Wonder the lanes of the first district, and you are bound to easily find hundreds more.

Read about the Lippizaner and General Patton here: http://www.historynet.com/patton-rescues-the-lipizzaner-stallions.htm

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The Holy Lance (“Spear of Destiny”) & the Power to Rule the World

The Legend of One of the Holiest, Most Fought Over, Sought After, Artifacts of Mankind

Charlemagne, Barbarossa, Hitler, Napoleon, General Patton and the quest for possession of the Holy Lance

“…whoever possesses this Holy Lance and understands the powers it serves, holds the destiny of the world in his hands for good or evil

– Trevor Ravenscroft, The Spear of Destiny

According to legend, the lance holds sacred powers and the person who possesses it is thus invincible and capable of ruling the world.

Holy Lance

Holy Lance

But why?

In ancient Rome, crucifixion was considered such an excruciating (from the word “crucify”) way to die that the Romans did not use it to execute their own citizens but rather reserved it as a form to torture and humiliate slaves, traitors and foreign criminals. The length of time for the condemned to die could range from hours to days depending on the condition of the person and the method of crucifixion.  To hasten death and ensure that the crosses were empty by the day of the Sabbath, soldiers would often times shatter and crush the bones of the condemned with an iron club. However, when the Roman Centurion, Longinus, came upon Jesus, he noticed that he was already dead and refused to smash his bones. And to prove to all present that he had died, Longinus pierced Jesus’ side with a lance causing blood and water to flow from the wound and fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would die without broken bones and become resurrected.

And so the legend begins.

St. Longinus
At the time Longinus encountered Jesus on the cross, he had long been suffering from a severe eye disease that nearly blinded him. This may explain why he was assigned to oversee the crucifixions. When he stabbed Jesus, some of Jesus’ blood and water fell into the soldier’s eyes, and he was instantly healed. According to Mark 15:39 he then exclaimed, “Indeed, this was the Son of God!” He was so taken by the miracle that he left the army, converted and became a monk. Eventually, however, in 45 AD, Longinus was beheaded for his beliefs. Years later the man who was said to have held, for one brief moment, the destiny of the world in his hands, was venerated as a saint.

The Holy Cross and the Holy Lance

The Holy Cross and the Holy Lance displayed side by side in the Imperial Treasury

St. Maurice
Somewhere along the line, the lance that had touched Jesus’ body and blood was passed into the hands of Maurice, the head of the 3rd century garrison of Roman soldiers who came from Thebes (Upper Egypt). In 287 Maximian, junior Roman Emperor, ordered Maurice and 6599 of his men to attack local Christians in a town in what is now Switzerland (today, St. Maurice-en-Valais), offer sacrifices to the pagan gods and pay homage to the emperor. Maurice and his men refused, and at first the emperor killed every 10th man to pressure the soldiers to obey. But when they still refused to follow orders, he ordered them all to be killed. The bravery and martyrdom of Maurice became legendary and Maurice later became a patron saint of the Holy Roman Emperors and the patron saint of soldiers, swords smiths, armies and infantrymen. For centuries, Holy Roman Emperors were anointed at his altar in St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

Tip of Holy Lance with Nail from Cross

Tip of Holy Lance said to contain Nail from the Cross

Constantine the Great
From there, the lance eventually ended up with Constantine the Great, the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity in the early 4th century.

Charlemagne
Three centuries later Pope Leo III gave the lance as a gift to Charlemagne (742-814) , also known as Charles the Great, whose empire united most of Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire. Charlemagne is said to have carried the spear through 47 battles and died when he accidentally dropped it.

Henry I
German king Henry I, desperately wanted the lance as well and after doing everything in his power to get it, ended up acquiring it for a high price. On 15 March 933, on the day of St. Longinus, he conquered Hungary at the Battle of Riade with the lance and later successfully set his son, Otto I, spear in hand, to continue his reign.

Otto I
In 962, still in possession of the lance, Otto I is crowned emperor in Rome and becomes “the first of the Germans to be called the emperor of Italy.”

Otto III
In 996, Otto III was so convinced of the lance’s sacred powers that during his march to Rome to reclaim the crown, he prominently displayed it in the front of his army.

Barbarossa
German Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa, is also said to have possessed the lance and when he dropped the lance in a creek, his downfall was sealed. He’s the same king who is supposed to be sleeping in a cave in Bavaria somewhere, surrounded by his faithful knights, his red beard growing ever longer, waiting for the ravens to stop flying around the mountain so he can restore Germany to its former greatness.

 

Holy Lance and Golden Sleeve

Golden Sleeve added in 1350 by Charles IV with inscription “Lancea et clavus Domini” (Lance and Nail of the Lord)

Charles IV

Around 1350 Charles IV had a golden sleeve put over the silver one and inscribed the words “Lancea et clavus Domini” (Lance and nail of the Lord).

Napoleon
During the Napoleonic Wars, the lance was transferred from Nuremberg to Vienna to protect it from Napoleon Bonaparte who supposedly tried to obtain it after the battle of Austerlitz

Hitler
During WWII, after the annexation of Austria, Hitler ordered the lance and the rest of the Hapsburg treasury, moved to his spiritual headquarters in Nuremberg.

General Patton
US troops found the lance in tunnels in an underground vault and under US General George S. Patton, the lance was returned to Vienna. According to legend, they took possession of the lance on April 30, 1945 and less than two hours later, Adolf Hitler killed himself in a bunker in Berlin.

Holy Cross and Holy Lance in the Imperial Treasury in Vienna

The Holy Cross had a secret compartment for the Holy Lance

Stats
The lance is made of iron, is 50.7 cm long and was stored in the royal cross to keep it safe. The staff of the lance was wooden but can no longer be found.

In 1914, Montan University in Leoben in Austria and in 2003, Dr. Robert Feather, an English metallurgist, both found that the holy lance probably dates back to the 7th century AD. Dr. Feather also confirms that the metal pin claimed to be the nail from the crucifixion is consistent with the length and shape with a 1st century AD Roman nail.

In an article about the holy lance posted on the University of Vienna website, Mr. Mathias Mehofer of the Vienna Institute for Archaeological Science refers to the lance “as part of the insignia of the Holy Roman Empire, [the object is] one of the most significant objects of the Imperial Treasury from a historical and cultural standpoint.” And is a “stroke of luck for archeology since no other lance from the time period has survived in such good condition.”

 

Back of Holy Cross

Engravings on the back side of the Holy Cross

Legend or not 12 centuries is a heck of a long time
And even if you don’t believe all the legends surrounding the lance, you cannot deny a sense of awe gazing upon an object that has witnessed 1200 years of history. 1200 years!  And you’re looking at it. And maybe 1200 years from now, someone else, just like you, is gazing upon the exact same object. Awe-inspiring. Print This Post

Where to view the Holy Lance:

You can view the holy lance at the

Imperial Treasury in the Imperial Palace in Vienna

Hofburg, Schweizerhof, subway stop: Herrengasse (U3) or tram (1,2,46,49, D @ Dr. Karl Renner Ring)

Opening Times And Entrance Fees

More sources on the legend of the Holy Lance:

Bouchal, Robert, and Gabriele Lukacs. Geheimnisvoller Da-Vinci-Code in Wien Verborgene Zeichen & Versteckte Botschaften. Wien: Pichler, 2009. Print.

Crowley, Cornelius Joseph. The Legend of the Wanderings of the Spear Of Longinus. Heartland Book, 1972.

Dreger, Ronald. “Die “Heilige Lanze” Zwischen Wissenschaft Und Legende.” Weblog post. Unviersity of Vienna Online Newspaper. University of Vienna, 4 Apr. 2005. Web. 5 Oct. 2013: http://www.dieuniversitaet-online.at/beitraege/news/die-heilige-lanze-zwischen-wissenschaft-und-legende/543/neste/75.html

Kirchweger, Franz, ed. Die Heilige Lanze in Wien. Insignie – Reliquie – Schicksalsspeer [The Holy Lance in Vienna. Insignia – Relic – Spear of Destiny]. Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum, 2005.

Kirchweger, Franz. “Die Geschichte der Heiligen Lanze vom späteren Mittelalter bis zum Ende des Heiligen Römischen Reiches (1806) [The History of the Holy Lance from the Later Middle Ages to the End of the Holy Roman Empire (1806)].” Die Heilige Lanze in Wien. Insignie – Reliquie – Schicksalsspeer. Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum, 2005, 71–110.

MacLellan, Alec. The Secret of the Spear: The Mystery of the Spear of Longinus. Souvenir Press, 2005 (Reprint).

Ravenscroft, Trevor. The Spear of Destiny. [S.l.]: Wehman, 1969. Print.

 

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