Map of Europe
Map of Hungary
Map of Budapest
Hungary, facts and history in brief
Budapest, facts and history in brief
The Holy Crown (Szent Korona) of Hungary.
v v v
St Stephen Bazilika
Holy Crown 1
Holy Crown 2
v v v
THE HOLY CROWN OF ST
BY ALEXANDER BORG
Courtesy of Mr. Alexander Borg
(This article was first published in "Royalty Digest")
The regalia of the Kingdom of Hungary ranks among
the most ancient and complete in Europe.
Though not all of it is quite as old as some Hungarians
like to believe, parts of the regalia do reach back
to the eleventh century, just decades after the founding
of the Christian kingdom by King (later Saint) Stephen.
Hungarians have venerated the Holy Crown of St Stephen,
not only as a symbol of power, but as a necessary prerequisite
to the wielding of royal authority.
Whereas in other European states the act of anointing
was the most important moment of the coronation, in
Hungary there were three laws that had to be complied
with in order for the monarch to be considered legitimate:
firstly, that he should be crowned with the Holy Crown;
secondly, that the Archbishop of Esztergom should perform
the coronation; and thirdly, that this should take place
The first of these laws gives us an indication of just
how important the crown as an object was, and why it
had such a chequered history over the centuries.
The idea that the royal crown is the very crown with
which St Stephen was crowned is, sadly, probably a myth.
Most of King Stephen's regalia were probably spirited
away, to Bohemia or to Rome, during the earlier struggles
for the Hungarian throne between 1045 and the early
What we call the Holy Crown of St Stephen today is very
likely a replacement crown.
It originated as two separate crowns that were joined
together at some point in the thirteenth century.
These have been given the names of the corona graeca
and the corona latina.
The corona graeca is undoubtedly of Byzantine origin
and was probably intended as a queen consort's crown.
It consists of a gold band, at the top and bottom of
which are single rows of pearls. In between these, gemstones
and cloisonné enamels alternate, and the band
is surmounted with triangular and arched crests made
of gold and translucent enamel.
It is the presence of these crests that indicates this
was originally a female consort's crown.
The front of the crown is surmounted by an arched enamel,
which depicts Christ the Pantocrator.
The square enamels mounted on the band depict the archangels
Michael and Gabriel, and Saints George, Demetrius, Cosmas
St George is the patron saint of soldiers.
He and Dernetrius were thought to protect the empire
from foreign incursions; while Cosmas and Damian are
known as the physician saints, whose job it is to ensure
the mortal well-being of the sovereign.
On the back of the crown is a mount similar to that
of the Pantocrator, depicting the Byzantine Emperor
Michael VII Ducas, and beneath him, in squares fixed
to the band, are two lesser mortals, his youthful co-emperor
Constantine Porphyrogenitos, and King Géza I
The two Byzantine Emperors' titles are rendered in red,
while Géza's are in blue.
His legend reads: "Geovitzas pistos krales Tourkias",
which may be translated as "Géza the Believer
King of Turkey."
(The reference to Turkey is probably merely a reference
to the fact that the Hungarians were not Greeks!)
The reigns of all three sovereigns coincided between
1074 and 1077 and the corona graeca can therefore be
dated to this period (1).
It was possibly the crown of Synadene, the Byzantine
wife of King Géza I.
Suspended from the band of the corona graeca are nine
pendants each made up of three gems: four pendants hang
down from each side of the crown and a single one from
This was not an unusual feature of Byzantine crowns.
The corona latina, on the other hand, is much more obscure
in its origins and might not have been intended as a
crown at all.
Traditionally this has been thought to be a remaining
fragment of the original crown given to King Stephen
by Pope Sylvester II.
More recently, other suppositions have been made about
It may have been fashioned from the ornamental part
of a book cover, or a reliquary, or perhaps a portable
It could, alternatively, be what is known as an asterisk:
in the Orthodox Church, this is a frame placed over
Eucharistic bread to prevent the veil that covers the
bread from actually touching it.
Byzantine religious institutions were known to have
survived in predominantly Roman Catholic Hungary long
after the Schism that occurred between the two churches.
The corona latina is no longer complete.
Stylistically Romanesque, it is adorned with plaques
depicting eight of the apostles, but there are indications
that the missing four might have been attached at some
Unlike the enamels on the corona graeca, which were
most likely manufactured in Constantinople, those on
the corona latina are believed to have been produced
There is disagreement on the precise dating of their
manufacture, with suggestions ranging from 1160 to 1230.
Originally the crown was surmounted by a cross (or perhaps
a lily) which might well have been a reliquary containing
a fragment of the True Cross.
It may be that this is the reason, why the crown came
to be referred to as a holy crown.
Queen Isabella broke off the cross in 1551 and gave
it to her son, John Sigismund, to wear as a pectoral
The current cross is a replacement that dates from this
We do not know why the cross came to be bent, but a
diagram drawn in 1790 shows it already bent.
The crown has had a most turbulent history, due partly
to the fact that after the death of the last king of
the indigenous Árpád dynasty in 1301,
the monarchy became an elective one.
In 1307 the crown was captured, along with Otto, the
King to whom it belonged, by Ladislas, Voivode of Transylvania,
who kept the regalia until 1310, when, under threat
of excommunication, he handed them back.
The crown's absence caused such difficulties for Charles
of Anjou - to whom the throne passed after Otto, and
whose assumption of power many Hungarians could not
properly accept without coronation with the Holy Crown
- that the feudal lords of Hungary considered asking
the Pope to ban the crown and deprive it of its holy
Ladislas returned it in time, however, for this not
to have to happen.
Later, during a power struggle for the throne in 1440,
the crown was stolen by King Albert's widow, Queen Elizabeth,
who was pregnant and trying to stave off the possibility
of Wladyslaw of Poland being crowned King of Hungary
lest she should bear a son.
In the ensuing struggle the Queen sent the crown to
her relative, Emperor Frederick III, who had designs
on the Hungarian throne himself and who refused to hand
back the crown until 1464.
After Hungary's defeat by the Turks at the battle of
Mohács in 1526, the crown passed into the hands
of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, who passed it on
to the usurper King Janos Szapolyai, who kept it in
A contemporary witness, who felt that Janos Szapolyai
was unfit to be king on account of the blood on his
hands, writes that the crown began to revolve on his
head when placed on it as an indication of his unfitness
for high office!
When Szapolyai died, his widow handed the crown to the
Emperor Ferdinand I and thereafter it was kept in the
Habsburg treasury in either Vienna or Prague, along
with the rest of the Hungarian regalia.
From that time, Pozsony (Bratislava) was the chosen
place of coronation for Hungarian kings, and in 1608
it was decided that the insignia should be kept at the
castle at Pozsony.
From there, it was removed three times: to Vienna and
a number of other cities from 1616 to 1622 during a
period of unrest and invasion; to Györ in 1644,
when Hungary was invaded by the Prince of Transylvania;
and to Austria in 1683, during the Turkish advance.
Between 1703 and 1712, the crown was kept in Vienna.
The pretext for its removal had been that the castle
of Pozsony had been struck by lightning and partially
This, however, coincided with a war of independence
led by Ferenc Rákóczi II, during which
the Hungarians attempted to dethrone the Habsburgs but
Thereafter, the crown was again deposited at Pozsony
until 1784. Emperor Joseph II, with his policy of enlightened
absolutism, refused to be crowned, and had all his crowns
brought to Vienna, including the Hungarian one.
In Hungary he was merely mocked for this, and as he
was dying, he rescinded his decrees and allowed the
regalia to be returned, which they duly were in 1790.
Shortly thereafter, it became the custom to have kings
crowned at Buda.
During the Napoleonic Wars the coronation regalia were
taken to provincial towns for safety.
Subsequently, they were stored at Buda.
When it became evident that the Revolution of 1848-9
had failed, the entire regalia were spirited away by
rebel ministers who buried them in a chest by a riverbank,
and there they remained until 1853, when they were discovered
and carried back to Budapest in triumph.
The Emperor Francis Joseph was duly crowned in Buda
in 1867, although he had reigned since 1848.
This was particularly symbolic as the coronation marked
the end of the unitary Austrian Empire and the beginning
of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.
Thereafter, the Holy Crown was used for only one more
coronation, that of King Karl in 1916.
A set of stamps issued to mark the occasion portrays
the young king adorned with St Stephen's crown.
During the period when Hungary was a monarchy with out
a monarch - from 1919 to 1946, and particularly up to
1944, the Holy Crown remained as the focus of national
It appeared on postage stamps and currency, on public
buildings and on the national flag.
Even Ferenc Szálasi, the leader of the Nazi -
inspired Arrow Cross Party, who was installed as leader
by Hitler after the Regent, Admiral Horthy, had been
arrested, swore an oath on the crown in 1944.
As the Russians advanced towards Budapest in 1945, Szálasi
and his government fled towards Austria, taking the
crown and other regalia with them.
Upon the defeat of the Axis, those who had been entrusted
with guarding the regalia buried them and turned over
the empty chest to the Americans, who were unaware that
it was empty.
Some weeks later, one of those who had buried the regalia
disclosed their whereabouts, and they were turned over
to the Americans.
They were transported to Fort Knox during the Cold War
years and held in trust there.
After a great deal of negotiation, and perhaps to indicate
that Janos Kádár's government had earned
the seal of approval, the regalia were returned to Hungary
on 6th January, 1978 and are new on display in the capital
for all to see.
In the years immediately before the downfall of communism,
when the authorities were quietly restoring pre-communist
street names and dismantling their particular socialist
monolith in various other ways, the Holy Crown of St
Stephen started making its own quiet reappearance: in
the Castle Hill district of Budapest, upon newly restored
lampposts, the old royal arms, complete with crown,
suddenly became visible.
The average man in the street did not seem to be able
to state categorically whether they had been newly put
back, or whether they had always been there but had
been allowed to "fade" in the flaking paint and the
After the downfall of communism, the hated socialist
symbols were quickly dispensed with.
After a debate as to whether the old national arms should
be restored with the crown or without - there were those
who felt that a crown was unnecessary in a democratic
republic - the decision was taken to restore the arms
in their entirety.
One of the first post-communist stamps depicts the arms
in glorious colour.
Once again, the Holy Crown of St Stephen is to be seen
gracing public buildings of every kind, restored to
its position as the symbol of Hungarian nationhood.
1. The whole story of the regalia has by no means been
Other scholars claim that the corona graeca might be
even older, dating back to 1067.
Sources with the exception of the last paragraph, this
article is drawn in its entirety from two books: primarily,
The Hungarian Crown and Other Regalia, by Eva Kovács
and Zsuzsa Lovag, Budapest, Corvina, 1988; and to a
lesser extent from a book also called The Hungarian
Crown and Other Regalia, by Zsuzsa Lovag, Budapest,
Hungarian National Museum, 1986
v v v
St Stephen Bazilika
Holy Crown 1
Holy Crown 2
Saint Stephen 1
v v v
Back to Top
Thanks for coming, I hope you
have enjoyed it, will recommend
it to your friends, and will come
back later to see my site developing
I'm trying to make my pages enjoyable and trouble free
for everyone, please let me know of any mistakes or
trouble with links, so I can fix any problem as soon
These pages are best viewed with monitor
resolution set at 640x480 and kept simple
on purpose so everyone can enjoy them
across all media and platforms.