VIENNA -- Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed Saturday above the elaborate funeral for Austria's last Habsburg empress that was attended by European royalty and President Kurt Waldheim and televised to millions throughout the continent.
The Empress Zita, a one-time princess of Bourbon-Parma who ruled with Emperor Karl I over the Austro-Hungarian empire from 1916-18, died March 14 in Switzerland. She was 96.
The funeral at St.Stephens Cathedral began 67 years to the minute after the death of Karl I, her husband and Austria's last reigning monarch over the Habsburg empire that ruled much of central and eastern Europe between the 16th century and early 20th century. The Allies forced them to abdicate after World War I.
As the thunder and lightning brought with it rain outside the cathedral, a woman looked to the sky and said: 'Tears for Zita.'
The royal couple went into exile in 1919, first to Switzerland, later to Spain. Zita did not return to Austria until 1982 because she refused, until death, to renounce her claim to the Austrian throne.
After Karl died in 1922, Zita spent several decades trying to return to monarchial rule to what became the republic of Austria.
She lived in the United States for many years and often sought President Franklin Roosevelt's help in returning the Habsburgs to the throne.
The Habsburg family paid for the two-hour ceremony and related events, estimated to cost several hundred thousand dollars and requiring hundreds of volunteers.
The Austria Press Agency put the crowd estimate at 40,000.
Five members of a socialist youth organization were arrested after they dropped anti-monarchy leaflets on the route Zita's funeral procession wound its way to her burial at Vienna's Capucine Chapel, police said. They were charged with disturbing the peace and obstructing a funeral procession.
The archbishop of Vienna, Hans-Hermann Groer, presided over the ceremony. Pope John Paul II sent a message of condolence, and the primate of Hungary, Laszlo Paskai, attended.
John Paul's letter referred to Zita by her imperial titles and to her eldest living son, Otto von Habsburg, as 'Your Highness.'
The references prompted a sharp rebuke from respected Austrian television commentator and historian Hugo Portisch, who told listeners he was 'astonished at the insensitivity of the Holy See.'
Inside, royal heads of state, the prince and princess of Liechtenstein and the grand duke and grand duchess of Luxembourg sat near the flower-bedecked bier of the empress and queen of Hungary. The personal emblem of the empress of Austria was draped atop the casket.
Prince Albert of Monaco, Prince Albert of Belgium and many ambassadors from countries within the old empire were among the 8,000 people in the cathedral where Zita was annointed empress nearly 73 years ago over an empire that extended into Spain and what is now the western Soviet Union.
Waldheim's appearance sparked speculation and newspaper reports that numerous other royalty, including Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Spain's King Juan Carlos and Monaco's Prince Rainier, stayed away because of Waldheim's service in the German army during World War II.
The events leading to the funeral evoked more of a festive atmosphere than one of sorrow or political intrigue. Austrians are known to enjoy a good funeral more than a wedding.
'We expected her to die soon because of her age, so now Vienna has a chance to show off her medals and sentimentality,' said Vienna resident Hans Nowotny.
Some 1,300 police fanned out through the downtown area and plainclothesmen were put on high alert for possible disruptions from anti-monarchist groups who planned legal and illegal demonstrations during the ceremony, which was telecast to much of Europe.
The 'New Republican Club of Austria' placed a wreath at a monument to the Austrian republic to remind people, in the words of one spokesman, that Austria 'has done quite all right without the monarchy for more than 70 years.'
The remains of her husband, Karl I, whose body has remained on the island of Madeira since his death in 1922 pending a beatification inquiry by the Vatican, are expected to be interred next to the empress within two years, according to Austrian Catholic church officials.
By Habsburg tradition, the heart of Zita was removed immediately after her death and is kept in a Habsburg-founded monastary in Muri, Switerland, with the heart of Karl I.
Following the service, the empress' bier was drawn by six black Noricum stallions to the chapel of the Capucine Church in central Vienna where other Habsburg royalty are buried.
Along the route apartment owners and store owners offered their balconies and terraces for up to $3,000 to reporters for a better view, and black-bordered, life-size portraits of Zita were displayed in store windows.
After a brief ceremony in the chapel, a ritual was played out at the Habsburg Crypt, where a funeral official knocked on the door and someone on the other side asked, 'Who wishes to enter?'
'Zita, empress of Austria and queen of Hungary,' was said along with numerous other royal titles.
'We know of no one of that name,' came the reply.
'Who wishes to enter?'
'Zita of Habsburg, a poor sinner.'
The bier was then admitted to the crypt.