Weimar’s Ducal Vault is not a typical burial place for a royal family. Since 1832, the members of the House of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach have shared their tomb with the two most famous poets of Weimar classicism, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. As a result, the mausoleum has been a popular site of veneration for the poets ever since the mid-19th century.
The construction of the Ducal Vault was commissioned by the Grand Duke Carl August and was built between 1823 and 1828 on the grounds of the Historic Cemetery, which had been established a few years earlier in 1818. The architect Clemens Wenzeslaus Coudray was in charge of overseeing the work on the Ducal Vault. Following the construction of the inner crypt, the sarcophagi of the ducal family, which were rescued from the flames when the City Castle burned to the ground in 1774, were transferred to the Ducal Vault. The first interment occurred on 16 December 1827 with the reburial of the alleged remains of Friedrich Schiller. Carl August died on 14 June 1828 before construction of the vault was completed. On 26 March 1832 Johann Wolfgang Goethe was laid to rest in the vault next to Schiller’s casket. By 1905 another 14 people had been buried there. After workers broke through the foundation wall separating the Ducal Vault and the Russian Orthodox Chapel, built in 1862, the grand ducal couple Maria Pavlovna and Carl Friedrich were reunited in death, each buried under the buildings of their religious beliefs.
A short time later, Augusta, the queen of Prussia, provided funds to remodel the interior of the chapel to reflect the historic affinity of the time.
From 1952 to 1994, the official name of the ducal family’s vault was the »Goethe and Schiller Mausoleum«. In 1993/94, the vault underwent extensive renovation which reversed the alterations carried out in the previous decades. The chapel itself was remodeled at the beginning of 2011.
The Ducal Vault is regarded today as one of the major works of classical architecture in Thuringia. The square, two-story structure is abutted by a Doric portico. When visitors enter the building, they find themselves in the chapel which features neoclassical artwork, a star-spangled dome over an oval opening in the floor and original interior furnishings dating back to the age of Empress Augusta. An especially new addition to the chapel is the large-format Bible presented in the altar vitrine. To the left of the entrance, a narrow staircase descends to the vault below containing the caskets of the poets and ducal family. Coudray arranged the caskets chronologically based on the date of death, starting with Duke Wilhelm IV (1598 -1662) at the north wall. The monumental bronze sarcophagus of Carl August lies along the main axis below the altar. A total of 43 caskets had been stored in the vault until 1994 when ten caskets of members of the ducal family had to be removed for conservational reasons. As part of a research project in 2008, scholars discovered that the remains inside Friedrich Schiller’s casket belonged to those of several individuals. Therefore, Friedrich Schiller’s casket is now empty.
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