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The celebrated composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was raised Roman Catholic and remained a loyal member of the Catholic Church throughout his life.


Catholic upbringing

Mozart's parents (Leopold Mozart and Maria Anna Mozart) were Catholics and raised their children in this religion, insisting upon strict obedience to the requirements of the Church. They encouraged family prayer, fasting, the veneration of saints, regular attendance at Mass, and frequent confession.

Leopold Mozart continued to urge strict observance upon Wolfgang even when the latter had entered adulthood. In 1777, he wrote to his wife and son, who at the time were on their journey to Paris:

Is it necessary for me to ask whether Wolfgang is not perhaps getting a little lax about confession? God must come first! From His hands we receive our temporal happiness; and at the same time we must think of our eternal salvation. Young people do not like to hear about these things, I know, for I was once young myself. But, thank God, in spite of all my youthful foolish pranks, I always pulled myself together. I avoid all dangers to my soul and ever kept God and my honor and the consequences, the very dangerous consequences, before my eyes.

By "very dangerous consequences", Leopold was most probably referring to a specific doctrine of Catholicism, namely that persons who die in a state of mortal sin will experience eternal punishment in hell.

Leopold extended another important element of Catholic belief--the existence of earthly miracles as signs from God--to the case of his son, whose abilities he considered to have a divine origin. In 1768, he wrote to his friend Lorenz Hagenauer, describing his son as

a miracle, which God has allowed to see the light in Salzburg ... And if it is ever to be my duty to convince the world of this miracle, it is so now, when people are ridiculing whatever is called a miracle and denying all miracles ... But because this miracle is too evident and consequently not to be denied, they want to suppress it. They refuse to let God have the honor.

In the phrase "denying all miracles," Leopold may have been referring to the emerging values of the Enlightenment, at the time in full swing. Participants in this cultural movement often favored scientific (as opposed to miraculous) explanations of natural phenomena.

Order of the Golden Spur

Mozart in 1777, wearing the insignia of the Order of the Golden Spur

As a teenager, Mozart went on tours of Italy, accompanied by his father. During the first of these, Leopold and Wolfgang visited Romemarker (1770), where Wolfgang was awarded the Order of the Golden Spur, a form of honorary knighthood, by Pope Clement XIV. The papal patent for the award said:

Inasmuch as it behoves the beneficence of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic See that those who have shown them no small signs of faith and devotion and are graced with the merits of probity and virtue, shall be decorated with the honours and favors of the Roman Pontiff and the said See. (4 July 1770)

The following day Mozart received his official insignia, consisting of "a golden cross on a red sash, sword, and spurs," emblematic of honorary knighthood.

The papal patent also absolved the awardee from any previous sentence of excommunication (unnecessary in Mozart's case) and stated "it is our wish that thou shalt at all times wear the Golden Cross." In the 1777 painting (shown here) known as the "Bologna Mozart", Mozart is indeed shown wearing his knightly insignia.


Mozart joined the Freemasons in 1784, and remained an active member until his death; see Mozart and Freemasonry. His choice to enter the "Zur Wohltätigkeit" lodge was influenced by his friendship with the lodge’s master, Baron Otto Heinrich von Gemmingen-Hornberg, and his attraction to the lodge’s "shared devotion to Catholic tradition." Although the Catholic Church would become increasingly opposed to Freemasonry, during Mozart’s time "a good Catholic could perfectly well become a Mason," and it is clear that Mozart saw no conflict between these two allegiances. In Eminenti, the 1738 papal bull that officially banned Catholics from participating in the Freemasons, was not promulgated in Austria until 1792, the year following Mozart's death.

Last rites

There has been considerable scholarly debate over the question of whether Mozart received last rites of the Catholic church on his death bed. In 1825, Mozart's sister-in-law Sophie Haibel, by then elderly, prepared a brief memoir of Mozart's death for her brother-in-law Georg Nikolaus von Nissen, the second husband of Mozart's widow Constanze, who was writing a Mozart biography. Nissen, who like Sophie was living in Salzburgmarker at the time, conferred with Sophie and wrote marginal notes in her memorandum. While Sophie remembered that she had sent for a priest to come give Mozart the last rites, a marginal note in Nissen's hand indicates "The priests declined to come because the sick person himself did not send for them." The note added by Nissen, however, conflicts with a later annotation of Sophie’s letter, which states that a priest did come, and that although a period of unconsciousness made it impossible for Mozart to receive the viaticum, he was given extreme unction.

While it is unclear whether Mozart received last rites on his deathbed, there is no evidence suggesting that he refused them. Even Nissen, who was of the opinion that the priests failed to come, notes, “If he hadn’t been neglected [by the priests], he would have received the last rites.”

According to Gutman, the reason for the priests’ delay, or failure, in attending to Mozart was due to confusion. Constanze, who had sent Sophie to find a priest to administer last rites for her husband, wanted “a priest to arrive alone, as if on a passing, spontaneous sick call,” in order to spare Mozart “the alarm at the sight and sounds of the last rites in full form—sextons ringing bells as they escorted a cleric in vestments.” It is likely that the priest’s tardiness was due to Sophie’s failure to explain Constanze’s strategy, or, in any case, her inability to communicate to him the urgency of the situation.


Mozart received a Catholic funeral service at St. Stephen's Cathedralmarker and was given postmortem last rites at a Requiem mass in St. Michael's church.

Mozart's religious beliefs

The degree of Mozart's personal commitment to Catholic doctrine is difficult to determine. Ruth Halliwell, a contributor to The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia, writes, "An educated guess at the totality of Mozart's beliefs based on reconciling the motley evidence would probably posit a broad belief in Christianity, but impatience with many of the requirements of the Catholic church.” Another contributor, Bruce MacIntyre, suggests that Mozart "seems to have been a freethinking Catholic with a private relationship to God."

Liturgical works

During his lifetime, Mozart composed more than 60 pieces of sacred music; for a partial listing, see List of compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The majority were written between 1773 and 1781, when he was employed as court musician to the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Important later liturgical works included the Mass in C minor (K. 427, written for the Salzburg visit of 1783, the motet Ave verum corpus K. 618, written in Badenmarker in 1791, and the Requiem mass K. 626, left incomplete at Mozart's death.



  • Abert, Hermann (2007) W.A. Mozart, Yale University Press.
  • Anderson, Emily (1938) The Letters of Mozart and His Family, Macmillan and Co.
  • Braunbehrens, Volkmar (1990) Mozart in Vienna.
  • Deutsch, Otto Erich (1965) Mozart: A Documentary Biography. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Eisen, Cliff and Simon P. Keefe (2006) The Cambridge Mozart encyclopedia, Cambridge University Press.
  • Gutman, Robert W. (1999) Mozart: A Cultural Biography, Harcourt Brace & Company.
  • Solomon, Maynard (1995) Mozart: A Life. New York: Harper Collins.

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