Map of Europe
Map of Hungary
Map of Budapest
Hungary, facts and history in brief
Budapest, facts and history in brief
SAINT STEPHEN, CONFESSOR*,
also known as Stephen the Great
FIRST KING OF HUNGARY
Feast: September 2
*One who avows his religion
in face of danger, but does not suffer martyrdom.
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St Stephen Bazilika
Holy Crown 1
Holy Crown 2
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.
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.
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
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
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 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
The Pope delivered the famous crown (Known as the "Holy
Crown"(part 1 &
2 to Hungarians, world wide) and the
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
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
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
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
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
In recognition of his success, in
his lifetime the Pope granted him
the title Apostolic King - and the
right to use the Apostolic double
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
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
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
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.
crushed the pagan counter reaction to Christianity, forcibly
converting the so-called Black Hungarians after their
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
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
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
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
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.
saintly brother-in-law, Emperor Henry II (Known as Emperor
Saint Henry II.), died, he was succeeded by his cousin,
Fearing Stephen's growing power, Conrad marched
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
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
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
The King pardoned the assassin and his cousins
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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?
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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St Stephen Bazilika
Holy Crown 1
Holy Crown 2
Sovereigns of Hungary
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