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Austrians start a year of celebrations for Emperor Maximilian I

The Austrian Catholic Church yesterday began a year of honour to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Maximilian I, founder of Austria’s Catholic Habsburg Empire. As Austria has sought to distance itself from its Christian past and national history in recent decades, this decision to publicly honour the former Catholic ruler marks a noteworthy change in mainstream Austrian culture.

Dubbed ‘Maximilian Year’, celebrations and Masses to honour Maximilian have been organised and coordinated by Austrian church and government authorities. Austrian newspaper Tiroler Tagezeitung reports that the festival year will be marked with hundreds of celebratory events to commend his reign including light shows, concerts, musicals and children’s programs across Austria.

The celebrations commend Emperor Maximilian I for his Catholic beliefs, efforts to broker peace between Christian leaders and the Ottoman Empire during his lifetime and more general peace strategies. The emperor is also credited with using dynastic marriages to link the Ottoman Empire to a wide variety of foreign countries in an effort to prevent war and maintain peace in Europe.

Liturgical celebrations will be led by the Austrian military diocese with a special requiem Mass at St George’s Cathedral, the basilica inside the national military academy in Wiener Neustadt. Emperor Maximilian I was baptised in St George’s Cathedral in 1459 and was laid to rest there following his death on January 12, 1519. A new altar will be consecrated in the cathedral during a Mass in the emperor’s honour led by Bishop Werner Freistetter of the military diocese. A second Mass will be held in Innsbruck and a ‘Kaiserfest’ will be held on the military academy grounds following Bishop Freistetter’s Mass.

Housed in a garrison castle, St George’s Cathedral was destroyed during World War II and painstaking efforts in the post-war years were made to restore it to its former glory. It now serves Austrian military officers and houses an ornate reliquary.

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