|St. Stephen Day (Aug. 20)
St Stephen first King (AD 1000)
The later St Stephen - who had had the pagan name Vajk until he was baptised in his teens - had been in his early twenties when he succeeded his father Duke Géza (970-997). Promptly, forcefully and with ruthless efficiency he asserted his supremacy over the nation and several obstreperous elder relatives, who disputed his right to the succession (supreme leadership had hitherto been elective by seniority within the ruling family, not by primogeniture). He then asked for and received a royal crown from Pope Sylvester II - by his choice of patron demonstrating his determination to keep Hungary independent of both the Western and the Byzantine Empires - and with it he was crowned the first King of Hungary in the year 1000.
Next he set about converting all his people to Western (Latin) Christianity, founding and 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 (still vasárnap, market-day, in Hungarian). Within two decades the country was sufficiently Christian for the designation of an official pilgrim route to the Holy Land through it. Of earlier pagan beliefs all traces were soon to vanish, so that we now know nothing about what these had been.
In recognition of his success, in his lifetime the Pope granted him the title Apostolic King - not that different from the Byzantine Emperors' proud Equal of the Apostles (and five centuries older than Defender of the Faith) - and the right to use the Apostolic double cross. All Kings of Hungary styled themselves Apostolic until 1918, and the double cross is in Hungary's arms to this day.
When his tomb was opened in 1083, on the occasion of his canonisation, his right hand was found to be uncorrupted - it is venerated as a relic to this day. (All in all the House of Árpád gave the Church five saints: Kings Stephen and László, Prince Imre, and the Princesses Elizabeth, daughter of Andrew II, and Margaret, daughter of Béla IV).
St Stephen was equally energetic in dealing with secular matters, dividing Hungary into Counties - governed by royal officials, not feudal counts - that disregarded clan boundaries, and organizing defensive fortifications around the country's borders, also entrusted to royal officials. 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, he wrote for his son's guidance. By his death the decrees issued during his reign - many informed by Carolingian precedents, but all tailored to fit the specific task in hand - that regulated every aspect of the administration, revenues and defence of the realm, as well as the rights (notably: as regards property and inheritance) and obligations of his subjects, filled two volumes. Many were still cited in lawsuits in the 19th century. And the earliest Hungarian coins, silver denarii, date from his reign.
The Western Emperor was his brother-in-law, with the Byzantine he had concluded a treaty of friendship, thus he could get on with transforming Hungary unhindered by foreign wars.
There can be little doubt that but for St Stephen's successful efforts to transform the country into a Christian monarchy, endowed with administrative structures and a legal code that stood the test of time, there might be no nation and state called Hungary in Europe to this day.
FEAST OF ST STEPHEN, FOUNDER OF THE STATE
After the Conquest (traditionally dated to AD 896), the Magyars did not wholly abandon their nomadic, horse-riding, pastoral way of life, pagan gods, or social structure of tribes and clanship. There was a danger that they, like many peoples in the great migrations of the Dark Ages, would
break up, merge with other peoples, and vanish from the pages of history.
This danger was seen by a descendant of Árpád (d. 907), the prince who had led the Magyar Conquest. Prince Géza (d. 997) realized the Hungarian nation could survive only by making peace with Otto I, the Holy Roman Emperor, by adopting Christianity, and by abandoning a nomadic way of life in favour of farming. Géza requested German evangelists. He made some territorial concessions to Otto, and established good relations with neighbouring realms through marriage alliances. Chieftains who opposed the change were dealt with ruthlessly.
|Crown of St. Stephen
The helmet-style crown is made of gold and set with pearls and other gems. It is notable for its detailed enamel work called cloissonné. The jewels hanging on gold chains is representative of Byzantine Made Crowns.
Pope Sylvester II gave King (Saint) Stephen I (Szent István Király) the (upper part 'corona latina' with enamel plates of the apostols and inscriptions in Latin) Saint Crown in the year of A.D. 1000 and he was crowned with it in A.D. January 1, 1001. Saint Stphen's exact date of birth is not known, however it was between A.D. 967 - 975, he died in A.D. 1038.
The lower part of the saint crown the enamel plates with Greek inscriptons (corona graeca) was presented to King Géza I of Hungary by Byzantine emperor Micheal VII between A.D. 1074 - 1077. The corona graeca was made in the Byzantine emperor's shop in Constantinople (Present day Istambul).
|ST STEPHEN OF HUNGARY (A.D. 1038)
The people whom we call Magyars came into the country of Hungary during the last years of the ninth century, settling in the land around the Danube from several districts to the east of it, under the general leadership of a chief called Arpad. They were a fierce and marauding people and met Christianity in the course of their raids into Italy, France and westward generally. St Methodius and others had already planted the faith in Pannonia, but it was not until the second half of the tenth century that the Magyars themselves began to pay any serious consideration to the Church. Geza, the third duke (voivode) after Arpad, saw the political necessity of Christianity to his country, and (encouraged by St Adalbert of Prague) he was baptized and a number of his nobles followed his example. But it was largely a conversion of expediency, and had the usual result of such conversions: the Christianity of the converts was largely nominal. An exception to this was Geza's son, Vaik, who had been baptized at the same time as his father and been given the name of Stephen (Istvan); he was then only about ten and so had not acquired pagan ways and fixed habits of mind. In the year 995, when he was twenty, he married Gisela, sister of Henry, Duke of Bavaria, better known as the Emperor St Henry II, and two years later he succeeded his father as governor of the Magyars.
Stephen was soon engaged in wars with rival tribal leaders and others; and when he had consolidated his position he sent St Astrik, whom he designed to be the first archbishop, to Rome to obtain Pope Silvester II's approval for a proper ecclesiastical organization for his country; and at the same time to ask his Holiness to confer upon him the title of king, which his nobles had long pressed him to assume and which he now asked that he might with more majesty and authority accomplish his designs for promoting the glory of God and the good of his people. Silvester was disposed to grant his request, and prepared a royal crown to send him with his blessing, acting no doubt in concert with political representations from the Emperor Otto III who was then in Rome. At the same time the pope confirmed the religious foundations which the prince had made and the elections of bishops. St Stephen went to meet his ambassador upon his return and listened, standing with great respect, to the pope's bulls whilst they were read; 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. The same prelate who had brought the crown from Rome crowned him king with great solemnity in the year 1001.
Firmly to root 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; Veszprem is the first of which there is reliable record, but within some years Esztergom was founded and became the primatial see. At Szekesfehervar he built a church in honour of the Mother of God, in which the kings of Hungary were afterwards both crowned and buried. This city St Stephen made his usual residence, whence it was called Alba Regalis to distinguish it from Alba Julia in Transylvania. He also completed the foundation of the great monastery of St Martin, begun by his father. This monastery, known as Martinsberg or Pannonhalma, still exists, and is the mother house of the Hungarian Benedictine congregation. 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. He abolished, not without violence, barbarous 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 idolators. He was of easy access to people of all ranks, and listened to everyone's complaints, but was most 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. It is said that 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, and his nobles, when they heard of this, were amused and chaffed him about it; but they were also disturbed, and insisted that he should no more expose his person; but he renewed his resolution never to refuse an alms to any poor person that asked him. 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, Bd Emeric, to whom St Stephen's code of laws was inscribed. These laws he caused to be promulgated throughout his dominions, and they were well suited to a fierce and rough people newly converted to Christianity. But they were not calculated to allay the discontent and alarm of those who were still opposed to the new religion, and some of the wars which St Stephen had to undertake had a religious as well as a political significance. When he had overcome an irruption of the Bulgarians he undertook the political organization of his people. He abolished tribal divisions and divided the land into "counties", with a system of governors and magistrates. Thus, and by means of 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. But, as Father Paul Grosjean, Bollandist, has remarked, to look at him otherwise than against his historical background gives as false an impression as to think of him as a sort of Edward the Confessor or Louis IX. And that background was a very fierce and uncivilized one.
As the years passed, Stephen wanted to entrust a greater part in the government to his only son, but in 1031 Emeric was killed while hunting. "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 about 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 forward her ends. He eventually died, aged sixty-three, on the feast of the Assumption 1038, and was buried beside Bd Emeric at Szekesfehervar. His tomb was the scene of miracles, and forty-five years after his death, by order of Pope St Gregory VII at the request of King St Ladislaus, his relics were enshrined in a chapel within the great church of our Lady at Buda. Innocent XI appointed his festival for September 2 in 1686, the Emperor Leopold having on that day recovered Buda from the hands of the Turks.
There are two early lives 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. Other facts concerning the saint may be gleaned from the Chronica Ungarorum edited in Endlicher's Monumenta, vol. i. Although the supposed bull of Silvester II is certainly spurious, and although very serious doubts have been raised as to the genuineness of the crown alleged to have been sent by the pope, still there does seem to be evidence of special powers conferred by papal authority which were equivalent to those of a legate a latere. The belief, however, that St Stephen was invested with the title of "Apostolic King" is altogether without foundation. See e.g. the article of L. Kropf in the English Historical Review, 1898, pp. 290-295. A very readable, but rather uncritical, life by E. Horn (1899) has appeared in the series "Les Saints". For more reliable and detailed information we have to go to such Hungarian authorities as J. Paulers, Mgr Fraknoi and Dr Karácsonyi. In a later volume of the Acta Sanctorum, November, vol. ii, pp. 477-487, the Bollandists, when dealing with the life of Bd Emeric, have discussed many points which have a bearing on the history of the king, his father. Among the publications marking the ninth centenary of the death of St Stephen were F. Banfi, Re Stefano il Santo (1938), and B. Hóman Szent István (1938); the last has been translated into German (1941). See also Archivum Europae centro-orientalis, vol. iv (1938); and C. A. Macartney, The Medieval Hungarian Historians (1953).
 The alleged bull of Pope Silvester granting the title of Apostolic King and Apostolic Legate to St Stephen, with the right to have a primatial cross borne before him, is a forgery, probably of the seventeenth century. The upper part of the crown sent by the pope, fitted on to the lower part of a crown given to King Geza I by the Emperor Michael VII, is preserved at Budapest.