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Saint Stephen 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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The Hungarian tribes came to the Carpathian basin in 896 settling in the Danube basin from the several previous settlements to the east of it, under the leadership of their chief, Árpád.
Their nomad lifestyle was well known and feared in the "west" as they led regular raids into Italy, France and many other countries.
They encountered Christianity during these incursions.
Christianity had some following already in Pannonia, as Hungary was known in those days.
Thessalonians priests, SS. Cyril and Methodius had converted some of the Magyars already and had translated the Bible into the native tongue.
It was not until the second half of the tenth century that the Magyars themselves began to pay any serious consideration to the Church.
Géza, the third duke after Árpád in his wisdom saw the benefits and the political necessity of his loosely knit and feuding people united and adopt the European (Christian) ways, after Germany defeated Hungary in 955.
Géza had the choice of turning to the Eastern Church at Constantinople or to the Church of Rome.
Although Rome was more distant, he chose the Western Church, in fear that if he accepted Christianity from the east his domain would be incorporated in the recently revived Eastern Empire, the boundaries of which extended to the Danube.
He was shrewd enough to see the practical desirability of Christianity as a protection against the inroads of his Christian neighbours on either side.
He forced many of the nobles into unity and acceptance of Christianity and sent for Christian teachers from the Italy and Germany.
Géza's first wife was Sarolta, one of the few Magyar women who was truly Christian.
Stephen, István in Hungarian, was born at Esztergom in 975.
Sarolta took great care of his early training, and he had excellent Italian and Czech tutors.
Géza married as his second wife a Christian princess Adelaide, sister of the duke of Poland.
At her request, Adalbert, archbishop of Prague, came on a preaching mission to Hungary.
Géza and his young son, Vajk, aged ten were baptised in 986, taking the name of the first martyr in Christianity. A number of the Hungarian nobles were baptised at the same time.
For most of them it was a conversion of expediency, and their Christianity was, at the outset, merely nominal.
The young prince, on the contrary, became a Christian in a true sense, and his mature life was spent spreading the faith and trying to live according to its disciplines and tenets.
At the age of twenty Stephen married Gisela, sister of Duke Henry of Bavaria, the future Holy Roman Emperor (Better known as Emperor Saint Henry II).
Many powerful knights accompanied her to Hungary, and became Stephen's strongest supporters.
They received land and titles to settle down.
Stephen used their arms to put down the rebellious nobles and to enforce his laws and unity.
In 997, at his father, Géza's death he succeeded to the throne of Hungary.
In order to make Hungary a Christian nation, he sent Abbot Astricus (Saint Astricus, he served as Stephen's advisor), to Rome to petition Pope Sylvester II for the royal dignity and the power, demonstrating his determination to honour of God and the exaltation of His Church and to keep Hungary independent of both the Western and the Byzantine Empires and establish episcopal sees for promoting the glory of God and the good of his people.
At the same time he wanted the Pope to confer on him the title of king, that he might have more authority to accomplish his designs for promoting God's glory and the good of the people.
It happened that Boleslaus, duke of Poland, at this same time had sent an embassy to Rome to get the title of king confirmed to him by papal ordinance.
Pope Sylvester, persuaded to grant the request, had prepared a royal crown, the Holy Crown of Hungary (part 1 (part 2) to send him with his blessing.
The special enthusiasm, piety, and wisdom of King Stephen of Hungary seemed to deserve priority.

The Pope too may have been moved by political considerations, since the powerful German Emperor Ottó II was at that moment in Rome.
The Pope delivered the famous crown (Known as the "Holy Crown"(part 1 & 2 to Hungarians, world wide) and the "Apostolic Cross" to King Stephen's ambassador, Astricus, and a 'bull' (Papal edict) at the same time, confirming all the religious foundations King Stephen had erected and the ordination of the Hungarian bishops.
On his envoy's return, King Stephen went out to meet him, and listened with reverence to the reading of the Pope's bull, bowing as often as the Pope's name was mentioned.
To express his own sense of religion and to inspire his subjects with awe for whatever belonged to divine worship, he always treated the pastors of the Church with great honour and respect.
Emperor Ottó III by authority of Pope Sylvester II in recognition of Stephen's efforts crowned and anointed him the first King of Hungary on Christmas Day 1001 with great solemnity.
King Stephen than set about converting all his people to Western (Latin) Christianity.
He invited a number of German Christian knights into the rich and fertile plains of Hungary.
The Christian knights were awarded land and they also laboured to make converts of the peasantry.
Many Magyars resented this infiltration, and they feared their territorial rights and their ancient pagan customs jeopardised.
They rose in revolt under the leadership of Koppány, a man of great valour.
Stephen met the insurgents himself, having prepared for battle by fasting, handing out alms, prayer, and invoking the aid of Saint Martin of Tours, whom he had chosen as his patron.
The historic meeting took place at Veszprém in 998, and though Stephen's forces were inferior in size to those of the rebels, with the help of the German knights he won a famous victory. Koppány was slain.
To give God the glory for his success, Stephen built near the site of the battle a monastery dedicated to Saint Martin, called the Holy Hill, and bestowed on it extensive lands, as well as one third, of the spoils of victory.
Known since that time as the archabbey of Saint Martin, or Pannonhalma, it flourished down to modern times.
It is the mother house of all Benedictine congregations in Hungary.
Stephen now followed up his plans by inviting priests and monks to come from Germany, France, and Italy, to continue the work of taming the savage nation by teaching it the Gospel.
They built churches and monasteries to serve as centres of religion, industry, and education. Some of them died as martyrs.
King Stephen now founded the archbishopric of Esztergom, with five dioceses under it, and later the archbishopric of Kalocsa, with three dioceses also endowing two Archbishoprics, Metropolitan Sees) directly under the jurisdiction of Rome and eight Bishoprics, as well as a number of Benedictine monasteries (which introduced the vine alongside the Gospel).
Parish churches were built in towns and larger villages and, to encourage the populace to attend these, St Stephen decreed that markets be held in places with a church, on Sundays (Vasárnap, market-day, in Hungarian).
During the next twenty years the country was sufficiently Christian for the designation of an official pilgrim route to the Holy Land through it.
In recognition of his success, in his lifetime the Pope granted him the title Apostolic King - and the right to use the Apostolic double cross.
All Kings of Hungary styled themselves Apostolic until 1918, and the double cross is still in the arms of Hungary.
To firmly establish Christianity in his kingdom and to provide for its steady progress after his own time, King Stephen established episcopal sees only gradually, as Magyar clergy became available.
Veszprém is the first of which there is reliable record, but within some years Esztergom was founded and became the primatial see.
At Esztergom he built a church in honour of the Mother of God, in which the kings of Hungary were afterwards both crowned and buried.
The city was King Stephen's usual residence, it was called Alba Regalis.
For the support of the churches and their pastors and the relief of the poor throughout his dominions he commanded tithes to be paid.
Every tenth town had to build a church and support a priest.
The king himself furnished the churches.
Easy of access to persons of all ranks, Stephen was always ready to listen to the complaints of the poor, knowing that in helping them he honoured Christ.
Widows and orphans he took under his special protection.
He abolished, barbarous, pagan and superstitious customs derived from the former religion and by severe punishments repressed blasphemy, murder, theft, adultery and other public crimes.
He commanded all persons to marry except religious and churchmen, and forbade all marriages of Christians with non Christians.
He was easily accessible to people of all ranks, and listened to everyone's complaints.
He was very willing to hear the poor, knowing them to be more easily oppressed and considering that in them we honour Christ who, being no longer among men on earth in His mortal state, has recommended to us the poor in His place and right.
One day, while the king was distributing alms in disguise, a troop of beggars crowding round him knocked him down, hustled him, pulled at his beard and hair, and took away his purse, seizing for themselves what he intended for the relief of many others.
Stephen took this indignity humbly and with good humour, happy to suffer in the service of his Saviour, His nobles, hearing about this, were amused and warned him about exposing his person.
He renewed his resolution never to refuse an alms to any poor person that asked him.
King Stephen had his laws promulgated throughout his dominions, and they were well suited to a fierce and rough people newly converted to Christianity.
He gave his patronage to Church leaders, helped build churches, and was a proponent of the rights of the Holy See.
Stephen also crushed the pagan counter reaction to Christianity, forcibly converting the so-called Black Hungarians after their failed rebellion.
Stephen completed the establishment of the monastery of St. Martin (Pannonhalma) begun by his father, and saw to it that, at Magyar priests became available, churches were set up throughout his country.
Stephen devoted himself to rooting out idolatry among his people.
In the guise of a missionary, he often accompanied the Christian preachers.
Sometimes he had to check their tendency to impose the faith forcibly.
The remainder of his reign was taken up with the consolidation of the Christian hold on the region.
His crown and regalia became beloved symbols of the Hungarian nation, and Saint Stephen was venerated as the ideal Christian king.
Canonised in 1083 by Pope Saint Gregory VII and became the patron saint of Hungary.
King Stephen had to wage wars that had a religious as well as a political significance against those who were still opposed to the new religion and were spreading discontent and alarm.
After he had defeated the invading Bulgarian's he undertook the political organisation of his people.
He abolished tribal divisions and divided the land into "counties", with a system of governors and magistrates.
With a limited application of feudal ideas, making the nobles vassals of the crown, he welded the Magyars into a unity and by retaining direct control over the common people he prevented undue accumulation of power into the hands of the lords.
St Stephen was indeed the founder and architect of the independent realm of Hungary and organising defensive fortifications around the country's borders.
On the other hand, he carefully avoided creating territorially based feudal fiefs, then fashionable in most of Europe.
Land was merely held freehold under the Crown, not by feudal vassalage.
Moreover, large estates were not single blocks of territory, but numerous small packets of land scattered all over the country.
No office, title or dignity, other than the Crown, was hereditary.
The acceptance and integration of persons of non-Hungarian stock - whether already in situ or new immigrants - was encouraged, a nation of one race is feeble. ("Make the strangers welcome in this land, let them keep their languages and customs, for weak and fragile is the realm which is based on a single language or on a single set of customs.") "(Unius linguae uniusque moris regnum imbecille et fragile est)."
St. Stephen wrote this in a letter to his son St. Emeric, in 1036.
The decrees issued during his reign, most informed by Carolingian precedents, but all tailored to fit the specific task in hand, regulated every aspect of the administration, revenues and defence of the realm, as well as the rights and obligations of his subjects, filling two volumes.
Many were still cited in lawsuits in the 19th century.
The earliest Hungarian coins, silver denarii, date from his reign.
The Western (The Holy Roman) Emperor was his brother-in-law, with the Byzantine he had concluded a treaty of friendship, so he could get on with transforming Hungary unhindered by foreign wars.
St Stephen's successfully transformed the country into a Christian monarchy, endowed with administrative structures and a legal code that stood the test of time.
One effect of the conversion of Hungary was that the road used by pilgrims and crusaders going to the Holy Land was made safer, since the valley of the Danube formed a natural highway for at least a part of the long, difficult journey.
When Stephen's saintly brother-in-law, Emperor Henry II (Known as Emperor Saint Henry II.), died, he was succeeded by his cousin, Conrad II.
Fearing Stephen's growing power, Conrad marched against him.
A negotiation was arranged, and Conrad retired.
This settlement, according to Stephen's subjects, showed the peace-loving disposition of their king.
The example of his virtue was a most powerful sermon to those who came under his influence, and in no one was it better exemplified than in his son, Emeric, to whom his father's code of laws was inscribed.
Stephen brought Saint Gerard Sagredo to Hungary to tutor his son.
As the years passed, Stephen wanted to entrust a greater part in the government to his only son, but on 2 September, 1031, his only son, Emeric (Imre in Hungarian), died during a bear hunt, his cherished hope of transferring the reins of government into the hands of a Christian prince were shattered.
"God loved him, and therefore He has taken him away early", cried St Stephen in his grief.
The death of Emeric left him without an heir and the last years of his life were embittered by family disputes and dark intrigues over the succession, with which he had to cope while suffering continually from painful illness.
There were four or five claimants, of whom one, Peter, was the son of his sister Gisela, an ambitious and cruel woman, who since the death of her husband had lived at the Hungarian court.
She had made up her mind that her son should have the throne, and shamelessly took advantage of Stephen's ill health to advance her goal.
Two of Stephen's cousins were no better and even conspired to have him killed.
A hired assassin entered his bedroom one night, but the King awakened and calmly called out, "If God be for me, who shall be against me?"
The King pardoned the assassin and his cousins as well.
It is not surprising that "a time of troubles" followed the death of this great statesman and king, it lasted until the reign of Saint Ladislas, some forty years later.
He eventually died, aged sixty-three, on the feast of the Assumption 1038, and was buried beside his son, Emeric at Esztergom
His tomb was the scene of miracles, and forty-five years after his death, by order of Pope Saint Gregory VII at the request of King St Ladislaus, his relics were enshrined in the rich chapel which bears his name in the church of Our Lady at Buda. King Stephen was canonised in 1083.
In 1696 Pope Innocent XI appointed his festival for September 2, the day on which Emperor Leopold won Buda back from the Turks.
When his tomb was opened in 1083, on the occasion of his canonisation, his right hand was found to be uncorrupted and is still treasured and venerated as a holy relic.
Stephen and his son were canonised together in 1083.
His feast is on 2 September, but in Hungary his chief festival is observed on 20 August, the day on which his relics were transferred to Buda.
During his life, King Stephen founded a monastery in Jerusalem and hospices for pilgrims in Rome, Ravenna, and Constantinople.
He was a personal friend of Saint Bruno of Querfurt and corresponded with Abbot Saint Odilo of Cluny.
St Stephen merits the highest veneration for his accomplishments in both secular and religious matters, and, most especially, for having been an exemplar of justice, mercy, charity, and peace in a cruel age.

A letter of King Stephen to Emeric, his son.

My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at every time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favour not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbours or fellow-countrymen, but also to foreigners and to all who come to you.
By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness.
Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice."
Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak.
Finally be strong lest prosperity lift you up to much or adversity cast you down.
Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next.
Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice.
Be honourable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone.
Be chaste so that ;you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.
All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown, and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain to the heavenly kingdom.

During my research for this page I ran across the following article:

The Feast Of Stephen
By Anne Buckley

The 1,000th anniversary of the crowning of St. Stephen as King of Hungary is a day of celebration like our Fourth of July in that Eastern European country.
I found this out recently when I made some inquiries about the celebration of this anniversary that will take place in St. Patrick's Cathedral on Sunday, August 20.
We all know about St. Patrick's Day, celebrating the patron of Ireland and of the cathedral and of the country of ancestry of many New Yorkers.
The same with Columbus Day, the Italian explorer who sailed under the Spanish flag when he discovered the New World.
And there is the Mass before the Steuben Day Parade, honouring the soldier revered by New Yorkers of German heritage.
Now we have a celebration by yet another ethnic group, Hungarian-Americans, little known by comparison with the others, but enriching the tapestry of New York in the same tradition.
Why is the feast of St. Stephen such a big day in Hungary, and why is it going to be a big day in New York?
Stephen, a Magyar who was baptised as a child in 985, founded the free nation of Hungary, and his crown was sent to him by Pope Sylvester II, along with a double-barred processional cross, a symbol of hierarchy.
He ruled wisely and compassionately and was canonised by Pope Gregory VII in 1083.
There is a statue of him at St. Stephen of Hungary parish in Manhattan wearing the famous crown, which was captured by the U.S. Army during World War II and returned to Hungary in 1978.
There is also in St. Stephen's Church a stained-glass window over the main altar depicting St. Stephen presenting his crown to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The fact that there is a church dedicated to him in New York is related to the troubles undergone by the country he founded.
The people of Hungary have been subjected and persecuted by Austria, Communist Russia and Germany through the years.
By 1900 there were 1.2 million Hungarians in the U.S., 120,000 in New York City.
So, in the pattern of pastoral outreach to immigrants, the parish was established in 1902--on Aug. 2, I was told by the pastor, Franciscan Father Neil J. O'Connell.
It started in the basement of St. Stanislaus Polish Church, moved to a former Presbyterian Church on 14th Street in 1905, built the present church on East 82nd Street in 1928.
There have been rebellions against oppressors since then, and more Hungarians escaped to New York. Through it all, Father O'Connell pointed out, "the Hungarian nation has been a bulwark of Catholicism and Western culture in Eastern Europe." There's a tree at St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie that was planted by Hungarian Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, the long-imprisoned foe of communism who died in 1975.
On the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1992, members of St. Margaret of Hungary parish in Yonkers brought a wreath and flags there for a memorial service.
What the presence of Hungarians here comes down to is the human longing to breathe free.
The crowning of Stephen guaranteed that to the people of Hungary.
But it was wrested from them repeatedly. T
hey came in waves through the years, to the land where a statue in the harbour promises freedom, as other peoples from other nations came. For many, it was the freedom to worship they sought, the freedom to pray and have the sacraments in a Catholic church.
And they celebrate that Aug. 20 in one of the most famous and welcoming churches in Christendom.
The Hungarian-Americans probably will be wistful on their special feast, thinking of the glorious tradition of their country that had a saint for a king and hero.
But the fact that they celebrate as they do must remind them, as it does the rest of us, that the glory of the days of King St. Stephen has not died in the descendants of his people.

Some other points of interest.
Born 969 at Esztergom, Hungary
Died 15 August 1038
Father of Saint Emeric
Canonised 1083
Patron of bricklayers, death of children, Hungary, kings, masons, stone masons, stonecutters.

There are two early books on the life of St Stephen, both dating apparently from the eleventh century, and known as the Vita major and the Vita minor.
These texts have been edited in Pertz, MGH., Scriptores, vol. xi. A certain Bishop Hartwig early in the twelfth century compiled from these materials a biography which is printed in the Acta Sanctorum, September, vol. ii.

Did you know there was an Austro-Hungarian Emperor of Mexico? Maximillian.
He was eventually executed along with his Hungarian Huszárs.

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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