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The Holy Crown of Hungary

The Holy Crown (Szent Korona) of Hungary.

also known as Stephen the Great

Feast: September 2
*One who avows his religion in face of danger, but does not suffer martyrdom.

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Apostolic Cross        Coronation Jewels        St Stephen Bazilika

Holy Crown 1        Holy Crown 2

Saint Stephen        Sovereigns of Hungary

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There is no other nation in the world, who would keep in such a high reverence, have such a high respect for, love with such a mystical adoration their national relic as the Hungarians do with their crown, the Hungarian Holy Crown.
There is no other nation to be found, whose national relic's source, origin and age are so much unanswered, surrounded with such a mystery, and went through such fantastic adventures as did the crown of the Hungarians.
Believed to be the crown of the first Hungarian king, Saint Stephen I. (1000-1038), this crown was pawned or lost, stolen or seized, stashed or rescued and was kept in more royal courts, towns, castles and citadels than any other nation's coronation jewel.
Wars were waged for this crown and it happened that it was dug underground in a iron chest or in a crude oil barrel.
Every time the Holy Crown returned to Hungary, it brought about an elevated emotional, solemn atmosphere in the entire country, and its power was so enormous over the nation that the people knelt down before the coach carrying the crown, as they did later before the train bringing home the remains of Louis Kossuth.
The above examples meant to say that the Holy Crown was not only a crown for the Hungarians.
It represented something much bigger and universal.
The Holy Crown had divine power for them and symbolised the whole kingdom, the territory of the country, the entire Hungarian nation.
That is why it was more important than anything else for the Hungarians to rescue and safeguard the crown in decisive historic periods, because if there was no Holy Crown, there was no Hungary.
This is the reason why king Béla IV rescued it to the fortress of Klissa (Croatia today) from the Tartar invasion (1241), king Matthias bought it back from Vienna for an astrological [astronomical] price (1463), Peter Perényi hid it in his citadel of Füzér from the Ottoman invasion (1526), Louis Kossuth dug it underground in an iron chest near Orsova (Rumania today) after the surrender to the Habsburgs at Világos (1849) and Ferenc Szálasi rescued it to Austria from the invading Red Army and dug it underground in an oil barrel (1945).
These historic events are only few examples from the horrendous adventures the Hungarian Holy Crown went through but they all deliver the same message, i.e. as long as the Holy Crown is safe and exists, Hungary is safe and exists.

The unique role the Holy Crown had in the Hungarian history brought about the development of a doctrine called the "Holy Crown Theory."
Initiated by king Kálmán the Booklover (1095-1116), this theory holds that the utmost ruler of Hungary is not the king but the Holy Crown.
In the kingdom, everything, i.e. country, towns, lands, belong not to the king but to the Holy Crown.
The ultimate power is not that of the king but the crown's and, for example, if a dynasty died out, their land did not return to the king (where it came from) but to the crown.
The territories which joined Hungary (Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia, Rama [Bosnia], Serbia, etc.) were not absorbed into Hungary but became "members of united territories of the Hungarian Holy Crown".
Verdicts were declared in the name of the Holy Crown and not the king, and during those troublesome times when the country had no king, the civil leaders swore in for the Holy Crown.
(The final form of the "Holy Crown Theory" was drafted and published by Stephen Werbõczy, a jurist, in his book called Tripartium, 1517, Vienna).

In 1945, the US Army seized the Hungarian Holy Crown**, and according to a statement No 687, issued by the State Department in 1951, the US Government did not consider it as a spoils of war but stored it as a deposit.
The Holy Crown was kept in Fort Knox, KY, the same place where the US keeps its gold treasure, and it finally returned to Hungary on January 5 1978, when State Secretary Cyrus Vance transferred it to the possession of the Hungarian Government.

The Hungarian Holy Crown consists of two separate parts, i.e. the lower circular crown called the Greek crown (corona graeca) and the upper arch-type crown called the latin crown (corona latina).

The lower circular crown was given as a gift to the Hungarian king Géza I. by the Byzantine emperor Michael Dukas in 1074.
Made in the goldsmith shops of the emperor, the front perimeter of the circular crown has 5 semicircular and 4 triangular enamelled golden plates in alternating sequence. In the central plate, the figure of Jesus Christ can be seen sitting on a throne, raising his right hand for blessing and holding a book in his left.
This is a typical representation of Christ in the Byzantine art, where he is shown as the World Ruler (Pantokrator).
From Christ to the lower left and right, Gabriel and Michael archangels look toward Jesus. Next to Michael is the picture of Saint George (a warrior saint in the Byzantine mythology) followed by Saint Kosma (a healing saint).
Next to the Gabriel is the picture of Saint Demetrius (a warrior saint) followed by Saint Damjanus (a healing saint).
In the back, at the opposite location to the Pantokrator Christ, the enamelled golden plate of Michael Dukas, Byzantine Emperor can be seen holding a regal sign in his right hand and a sword in his left.
From him to the lower left and right, emperor Constantine, Jr. and Hungarian king Géza I. look toward Dukas.
In the front, beneath the plate of Christ, a large blue Indian sapphire gem is located followed by on both sides between the plates of the saints a red almandine garnet, another sapphire and a green glass stone.
In the back, beneath the plate of Michael Dukas, a large sapphire gem is located.
On the hind perimeter of the corona graeca 18 pearls are sitting, and four little golden chains with gems at their tips are clinging on the left and right side of the crown and one in the back.
In the Middle Ages, the gems had their own meaning.
According to this, the blue sapphire symbolised the see, the red almandine the fire, the green glass the earth, and together they represented the Universe.

The upper part of the Holy Crown is the older one which was sent by Pope Sylvester II. to   Saint Stephen
 the first Hungarian king in 1000 A.D. in recognition of his mission to turn the pagan Hungarians to Christianity and to recognise the Hungarian state.
On the top of the corona latina, the enamelled golden plate shows again the World Ruler Christ (Pantokrator) raising his right hand for blessing and holding a book in his left.
The upper part of the Holy Crown has an arch-type design and carries pictures in enamelled golden plate of 8 apostles.
Ahead of Christ comes the picture of John and Bartholomew, to the right Peter and Andrew, to the left Paul and Philip, to the back James and Thomas.
The figures are surrounded by filigree ornaments made of golden wire, pearls and almandine garnets.
On the top plate of the arch, a golden cross is mounted which is not the original one.
It is believed that the original cross was a relic holder and contained a little piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified. This cross was broken off and later replaced by the present one which was originally in upright position and its leaning posture is likely due to a physical damage.
The earliest representation of the Holy Crown dating from the 17th century already shows it in leaning position.
The two parts, the lower circular Greek crown and the upper arch-type latin crown was attached together by Hungarian king Géza I. at the end of the 11th century, and it is proven that the complete Hungarian Holy Crown already existed in 1166. So, it is more than 800 years old.

The Hungarian Holy Crown is a harmonic complex of many styles of art, fine goldsmith's and artistic works, so it truly counts for a masterpiece.
Apart from that, it represents their country, nation and culture for the Hungarians, and such, it is much more than just a regal jewel for them, it is their highest regarded national relic.
If the Holy Crown were able to speak, it could tell all the ups and downs, despairs and hopes, anguishes and happiness, cares and cheers the Hungarians went through with their crown during their history which made them, the Holy Crown and the nation, two inseparable parts.

© 1995 András Szeitz

The Saint Stephen Reliquary containing His Right Hand, at the Budapest St Stephen Bazilika.

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Apostolic Cross        Coronation Jewels        St Stephen Bazilika

Holy Crown 1        Holy Crown 2

Saint Stephen        Sovereigns of Hungary

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