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The Holy Crown of Hungary, 2

The Holy Crown (Szent Korona) of Hungary.

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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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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 in Fehérvár.
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 thirteenth century.
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 and Damian.
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 of Hungary.
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 the back.
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.
It may have been fashioned from the ornamental part of a book cover, or a reliquary, or perhaps a portable altar.
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 time.
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 in Hungary.
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 cross.
The current cross is a replacement that dates from this time.
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 status.
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 Transylvania.
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 burnt down.
This, however, coincided with a war of independence led by Ferenc Rákóczi II, during which the Hungarians attempted to dethrone the Habsburgs but failed.
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 sovereignty.
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 rust.

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 established.
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

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Apostolic Cross        Coronation Jewels        St Stephen Bazilika

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Saint Stephen 1        Sovereigns of Hungary

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