Crucifix bestowed upon Maximilian I of Mexico by Pope Pius IX in 1864

This exquisitely carved ivory crucifix is mounted on an ebony cross and bears the crest of Maximilian in gold.  The crucifix is exhibited in its original case. The crucifix was given to Maximilian when he, with his wife Carlota, received the Pope’s blessing in 1864 while en route to Mexico where he would become Emperor Maximilian I, the first and only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire.  The crucifix remained in Maximilian’s possession and is said to have been held in his hands the day he died.

Ferdinand Maximilian (1832-1867), born in Vienna into the powerful House of Habsburg-Lorraine, was the brother of Franz Joseph I, emperor of Austria.  Maximilian was well educated, fluent in a number of languages, and had a wide variety of interests, including the natural world.  By 22, he was commander-in-chief of the Austrian Navy.  In this role, he led a number of scientific expeditions.

In the early 1860s, Napoleon III of France initiated a plan to establish a “friendly monarchy” in Mexico, to ensure European access to Mexican resources and recover an unpaid debt owed by the Mexican government.  Napoleon recommended Maximilian to head his new French monarchy.  Although this European intervention in the New World was in violation of the Monroe Doctrine, the United States was preoccupied with its own civil war and hesitant to intervene.

The short-lived reign of Emperor Maximilian and his wife Empress Carlota was fraught with instability and internal conflict.  Although they were supported by Mexican conservatives, French rule was not recognized by the liberal forces of Mexican President Benito Juarez.  Nevertheless, Maximilian instituted or upheld a number of liberal policies, enacting labor laws, and other reforms to benefit the underclass.

Increasing political unrest and revived interest by the United States in ending the foreign occupation in Mexico led to the withdrawal of French troops.  While recognizing the impending end of his reign, Maximilian, rather than heed the advice of Napoleon to return to Europe, refused to abandon his Mexican supporters.  By the spring of 1867, the French empire in Mexico collapsed. After only three years as emperor, Maximillian was court-martialed and, along with generals Miguel Miramon and Tomas Mejia, executed on June 19, 1867.  Among Maximilian’s last words were, “… may my blood, which is about to be shed, be for the good of the country. ¡Viva Mexico! ¡Viva la Independencia!”

Maximilian’s crucifix was inherited by the descendant of a lady-in-waiting to Empress Carlota.  It was acquired by The Bryan Museum through the estate of the late Bud Adams, former owner of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans.