The Baroque castle church, or Schlosskirche, in Weilburg dates back to the the year 1707 when it was commissioned by Count Ernst-Johann of Nassau-Weilburg as part of numerous changes to both town and castle. The church was built according to plans of Julius Ludwig Rothweil and finished in 1712. The Protestant church was consecrated in August 1713 even though the first baptism had already taken place there several months earlier.
Beneath the altar of the church lies the crypt that holds members of the Nassau family. A crypt holding royal ancestors is hardly a novelty, but this particular crypt plays a unique role for the House of Nassau. Appreciating the role that the crypt has played for the family of Nassau requires first understanding how the town of Weilburg developed. Weilburg today, with 14,000 residents, is the third largest city in Limburg-Weilburg Kreis (or district) in the State of Hesse. Weilburg has been heavily influenced by the Nassau family. The town underwent extensive renovations under Count Johann Ernst of Nassau-Weilburg (1664-1719), who added various new buildings, created a park area, and expanded the medieval castle that already sat in the town.
Today Weilburg is considered one of the best preserved towns dating from Germany’s era of Baroque urban planning, though it's castle is actually built in Renaissaince-style. It has the luxury of being little touched during the wars and still maintains an aura of another time.
In 1806, Weilburg became the seat of power for the Dukes of Nassau, who had just assigned themselves this title from the traditional title of Counts of Nassau. (This new seat of power did not remain in Weilburg long. By 1816, Wilhelm, Duke of Nassau, moved the seat of power to Biebrich.) By 1866, the power of the Nassau family was on the decline, when Prussia annexed the entire Duchy after the Austro-Prussian War. The crypt within the castle church of Weilburg, however, remained in the legal control of the Nassau-Weilburg family and in the possession of their descendants even as they transferred to other political domains. Today, those who step inside the crypt step – however briefly – out of Germany and into the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg as the crypt in considered Luxembourgish exterritorial area.
In fact, the entrance to the crypt, when opened, is draped with the colors of the House of Nassau (blue and orange) and flanked by an honor guard usually formed by the Bürgergarde Weilburg. Before the entrance there is a stone slab inset into the ground and engraved with the following Latin inscription:
POTENTISSIMI AC ILLUSTRISSIMI
DOMINI ATQE DOMINAE
EX ANTIQUA STIRPE NASSOVICA
COMITES AC PRINCIPES NASSOVIAE-WILINIBURGENSIS
DUCES NASSOVIAE MAGNI-DUCES LUCEMBURGENSIS
Beneath this altar await resurrection, the most noble, the most powerful and most illustrious masters and mistresses of the ancient line of Nassau, Counts and Princes of Nassau-Weilburg, Dukes of Nassau, Grand Dukes of Luxembourg. Rest in peace.
Already prior to the construction of today's church, there had been a castle church and family crypt in Weilburg. When the previous church was deconstructed in 1707, the remains of 17 members of the Nassau family were moved to a location near the church entrance from the castle garden. For a long time, they seem to have been lost to memory, particularly after the Prussian annexation, but were rediscovered during reconstruction work on the church in 1909. The remains were then moved to the new crypt below the altar of the castle church which occupies a space of 12 meters long (39 feet long) and 7.5 meters wide (24.5 feet wide) with six cross vaults, each supported by two sturdy pillars, spanning the ceiling.
|Flowers from Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, laid|
on the grave of Grand Duke Wilhelm.
After being originally buried at Schloss Hohenburg near Lenggries in Bavaria, the remains of Grand Duke Adolph of Luxembourg, who was also the last reigning Duke of Nassau, were transferred to the crypt of the castle church in Weilburg in 1953. Already two years earlier, the same had happened to the remains of his son and successor, Grand Duke Wilhelm IV. All in all, there are around thirty (Protestant) members of the Nassau family, including aforementioned Count Johann Ernst and his wife, who are buried at the family's crypt in Weilburg. Their Catholic relatives starting with Wilhelm's wife, Grand Duchess Maria-Ana, are buried at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Luxembourg.