St. Stephen’s Day (Szent István Nap), 20th August, Hungary   1 comment

Hungary was established as a Christian Catholic kingdom under Stephen I (István), a descendant of Árpád, the Magyar leader who united the tribes into one nation in the Carpathian Basin. Stephen was crowned on Christmas Day 1000 AD in the then capital, Esztergom, where he was born. He greatly expanded Hungarian control over the Carpathian Basin, establishing Christianity in the region and is generally considered to be the founder of Hungary. He was canonised in 1083, becoming the most popular saint in Hungary and its patron saint.

According to tradition Pope Silvester II, with the consent of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III, sent a magnificent jeweled gold crown to Stephen along with an apostolic cross. The crown that survives today was probably never worn by the king himself, as it has been dated to the 12th century. It was removed from the country in 1945 and entrusted to the US government, being kept in a vault in Fort Knox until 1977, when President Jimmy Carter ordered its return. It then went on display at the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest until the Millenium Celebrations in 2000, when it was transferred to the House of Parliament. The Persian-made scepter with an embedded crystal depicting a lion, is the oldest coronation symbol, since it is thought it may have come into the possession of the Árpád dynasty before its arrival in the Carpathian basin. 

The Pope’s crown conferred on Hungary the status of international recognition as a Christian nation. Together with the Bavarian knights and priests belonging to his wife, Gisela’s retinue, Stephen defended the new state against enemies from without and within, especially the pagan rebels and his power-hungry relatives, the Pechenegs. He also fought off the armies of the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad. Stephen died on August 15th, 1038, and was buried in his new capital city of Székesfehervár. The rule of Árpád’s dynasty lasted until 1301, strongly coloured by campaigns of defence and conquest, while the area they ruled and loosely supervised changed just as much as their diplomatic and strategic priorities.  

The last king to wear the crown was Charles IV, who abdicated the throne in November 1918, following the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the First World War.  He twice tried, unsuccessfully, to regain the throne of Hungary in 1921 before dying in exile later the same year. Their only child, Otto Habsburg, died recently in his nineties after a career as a German MEP. Although Hungary has remained a Republic since 1946, the Holy Crown remains a powerful symbol of independent Hungary and in 1990 it was restored to the National coat of arms and the centre of the flag.

His ‘name’ day, 20th August, is the major Church as well as secular holiday in Hungary, celebrated by everyone regardless of religious conviction or belonging; his Christian name István, (he originally had the name ‘Vajk‘ before his baptism), the equivalent of ‘Stephanos’ in Greek, meaning ‘the crowned one’, is still the most popular men’s name in Hungary. The right hand of the newly canonised king was mummified half a century after his death and is now at St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest. On St. Stephen’s Day, it is still carried around the city in a procession.


One response to “St. Stephen’s Day (Szent István Nap), 20th August, Hungary

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  1. Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

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