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   Alba Regia Chapel

Whenever a people forgets it worthy past, the day will come when it will no have a past worth remembering

Enter our threshold with calm and tranquil spirit ...
(From a Székely Kapu)

2017 Szeptember 21 (Csütörtök) - Máté, Mirella névnapja Search for:

THE SPIRIT OF HUNGARY IN WEST VIRGINIA
The Alba Regia Chapel in Berkeley Springs


Alba Regia Chapel
Alba Regia Chapel

What a peculiar notion: a Hungarian memorial chapel on a West Virginia hilltop. What logic could there be in choosing such an isolated spot, far from the people and events being commemorated? No coronations, uprisings, public assemblies, or nation-rousing speeches took place here. Surely more suitable sites exist, close to the centers of power and population, where crowds gather and large demonstrations could be organized. Such misgivings evaporate as the visitor approaches and realizes that this chapel manifests in a profound way the abiding, tenacious spirit that has enabled Hungary and her people to endure in the face of wars, plagues, ethnic upheavals, great power manipulation, and numerous other national calamities. This spirit is not bound by time or place; rather, it resides in all those who consider themselves Hungarian and share a certain historical consciousness and cultural outlook which set them apart. Since one out of three Hungarians lives outside the mother country, this 'Hungarian-ness' has spread across the globe, including to the top of Mount Tabor, outside of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Located there is the Alba Regia Chapel, a humble yet most fitting monument to the Hungarian spirit. Built and maintained by the Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation U.S.A., the chapel is especially significant to the Hungarian Americans who have contributed so much to their adopted land while continuing to cherish their native heritage.

The little chapel, however, is more than a symbol of Hungarian tenacity and the will to survive. It is also a capsule of Hungary itself, filled with architectural details, paintings, and folk objects that convey the essence of that distant land. The richness of Hungarian culture is evident here, its ability to absorb and transform the many foreign elements it has been exposed to over the centuries. The country's regional diversity is also reflected here, in for instance the bell tower built in the style of Northern Hungary or the entrance gate carved in the fashion of the Székely people of Transylvania. Even the physical setting is reminiscent of certain areas of Hungary, and when the Hungarian Scout Troop comes for its annual outing, the echo of Hungarian songs and chatter through the woods completes the setting.

The chapel ceiling is decorated with the county coats-of-arms of historical Hungary. Along the walls are portraits of prominent Hungarians who, over more than 1000 years, were among the many who founded and rebuilt, defended and reconquered, converted and reconverted the nation. A tour of this gallery provides a glimpse of the major triumphs and tragedies the country has experienced throughout her rich and tumultuous past.

Along one side are portraits of the "nation's founders." starting with Árpád, the chieftain who in the year 896 led the seven Magyar tribes through the Carpathian passes to the Danubian Plain. The dynasty bearing his name was to rule Hungary during the next 400 years. For several decades after their arrival from the East, the nomadic Hungarians terrorized Europe with their fierce, horse-mounted raids; probably subsisting on dried meat grounded into powder, they could rapidly cover great distances unencumbered by the many livestock that other fighting forces of the time herded along as their primary food source. These Magyar raiders gradually succumbed to military pressure and the influence of Christianity. Settling in their new homeland, they began the remarkable metamorphosis from a horde of nomadic, pagan clans into a centralized European nation state.

The Árpád dynasty produced, for the most part, a succession of able and dedicated rulers who skillfully guided the country through this transition. The most famous was Árpád's great great grandson, Vajk, who was baptized as István (Stephen). Stephen firmly committed the country to Christianity, and in recognition received a crown and apostolic cross from Pope Sylvester II. His coronation as the first Christian king of Hungary took place on Christmas Day in the year 1001. This was of enormous significance in defining for the next millennium the country's orientation towards Rome and the West rather than Byzantium and the East. Stephen ruled with great authority and justice, tempered by wisdom and mercy. He forged the people into a European nation, but retained those traditional laws and institutions which did not undermine the new polity. Believing sincerely that his authority was God-given, Stephen took his Christian obligations seriously. He freed his own slaves, and invited Benedictine monks to Hungary to convert the population. In the Mirror of Princes, Stephen admonishes his son, Imre, to abide by Christian principles. The advice he offered is relevant to any age: "If you wish the honor of kingship, be peace-loving. Rule over all without anger, pride, or hatred, but with love, tenderness, humanity. Remember always that each one of us has the same standing: nothing exalts a man but humility; nothing humiliates a man more than haughtiness or hatred... Peace-loving monarchs rule, the rest only tyrannize. Be patient towards all, the influential and the destitute alike ... be tolerant to people newly arrived from other lands." Stephen was canonized in 1083.

The portrait next to King Stephen's is of St. László (Ladislas), who ruled from 1077 to 1095. A chivalrous and compassionate ruler, he reaffirmed Hungary's attachment to the Roman Church and the West by, among other acts, settling French monks in the country. The first history of Hungary, the Gesta Ungarorum, was written during his reign.

The successor to Ladislas was Kálmán (Coloman), called "the Book-man" because of his scholarly interests. Despite a cruel streak, he was an enlightened, capable ruler, far ahead of his time in, for instance, outlawing trials for witchcraft and abolishing the ordeals by fire and water that were so common in Europe at the time as a way to extract confessions from the accused.

The subsequent portrait is of Béla III, who ruled from 1173 to 1196. Hungary became at this time the most powerful state in East Central Europe. Béla III married the daughter of the king of France and his annual revenue was exceeded only by that of the Holy Roman and the Byzantine emperors.

Endre II (Andrew II), whose picture follows, was an immoderate and adventuresome monarch, remembered primarily for the charter he was forced to accept by the clergy and nobility. Dated 1222, the Golden Bull sharply limited the royal powers and is comparable in historic importance to the English Magna Carta, which preceded it by only seven years.

There is one other member of the Árpád dynasty represented in the chapel, Béla IV. His portrait is the first on the opposite wall, along with the "defenders of the nation."

In 1301, the sole surviving male member of the Árpád dynasty died, and "the last golden twig of the generation, blood and lineage of St. Stephen" was broken. From now on, Hungary's rulers would be drawn mostly from foreign dynasties. The first two of these foreign kings, Károly Róbert (Charles Róbert) and Nagy Lajos (Louis the Great), belonged to the House of Anjou. They turned out to be very able men, dedicated to the Hungarian cause and ushering in a period of stability and prosperity. Their portraits are in the chapel alongside the other founders.

In 1335, Charles Róbert met with the kings of Poland and Bohemia at Visegrád to make peace and establish mutually beneficial relations. This historic meeting was poignantly reenacted on February 16, 1991, when, after nearly a half century of communist oppression, the presidents and prime ministers of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary gathered at the same spot to seek peaceful, democratic solutions to the region's problems.

Under the second Angevin king, Louis the Great, Hungary extended from the Baltic to the Adriatic (including Venice for a while) and produced five times as much gold as any other European state. This was perhaps the apogee of her history, reflected not only in territorial extent and material wellbeing but also in demographics, intellectual life, and the arts.

The last picture on this side of the chapel is of Mátyás Hunyadi (Matthias Corvinus). Proclaimed king on January 24, 1458 by a large gathering of the lesser nobility, assembled on the frozen Danube, Matthias was truly a national leader. More importantly, he was a skillful administrator, a generous patron of the arts and sciences. Thanks to historically close ties with Italy, Hungary was strongly influenced by the Italian Renaissance, particularly during the reign of this great humanist king. The illustrated manuscripts remaining from his extensive library, now scattered around the world, are among the treasures of Western civilization, but the renaissance palaces and other physical vestiges of his reign were obliterated during the turmoils of the following centuries. Matthias reduced the power of the feudal lords, and ruled instead with a cadre of talented individuals, chosen for their abilities rather than their social status. For instance, the one-time commander of the famous professional 'Black Army' which he founded was a commoner. Widely respected for his evenhandedness, Matthias was eulogized by the common people with the words "King Matthias is dead, and so is justice." Hungary would never again enjoy such autonomy and grandeur.

On the opposite side of the chapel are paintings depicting the "defenders of the nation," In contrast to the prosperity and tranquility the country enjoyed under Louis the Great, the brilliance of the renaissance court under Matthias Corvinus, or the élan and vitality of other eras in her history, Hungary experienced many periods of great peril, degradation, and chaos, brought on usually but not exclusively by outside forces such as the Tatars, the Turks, or their 20th century equivalents, the Soviets. Portrayed alone, this wall of the chapel is a small sample of the men, women, and children who rose to the nation's defense during these difficult times.

The first portrait here is of the already-mentioned Béla IV, a member of the Árpád dynasty. He tried to protect Hungary against the Tatars, who devastated the country in 1241-1242. This was Hungary's first major calamity, during which half the population was killed, enslaved, or died of the plague. With remarkable resourcefulness, Béla IV rebuilt the country and restored the spirit of the people when the Tatars abruptly withdrew following the death of their leader, Batu Khan.

The second defender is János (John) Hunyadi, (the father of Mathias Corvinus) who responded to the Turkish pressure that was increasing threatening Hungary's southern flank in the mid 15th century. Though descended from the lesser nobility, Hunyadi became, after the king, the second most powerful figure in Hungary thanks to his military genius. At Belgrade (Nándorfehérvár) in 1456, he crushed the Turks so decisively that they were unable to mount a serious offensive against Europe for the next 70 years. Recognition of this victory, Hunyadi was proclaimed the "Defender Christendom," and Pope Callistus III decreed that church bells should be tolled at noon, a practice which continues to this day. The Christian troops were inspired during this battle by a Franciscan friar, Saint John Capistrano one of the famous Franciscan missions in California, established during the Spanish colonization, bears his name.

The next painting is of Katalin (Catherine) Dobó. She is a fictitious character, familiar to all Hungarians as the heroine of Géza Gárdonyi's novel about the siege of the town of Eger. But there was nothing fictitious about the siege itself, or about the heroic role of the townswomen in resisting it. On September9, 1552, the fortress of Eger was attacked by the two huge, Turkish armies of Ali Pasha and Ahmed Pasha. The town's garrison of 2000 under the command of István Dobó, faced an estimated 100,000 enemy soldiers. Katalin Dobó symbolizes the heroic women of Eger who stood shoulder to shoulder on the ramparts with the men; there was no time debate the appropriateness of women in combat as they fought off the waves of elite Turkish fighters, called Janissaries. The siege was lifted October 18, and the Turkish advance into northern Hungary was halted half a century. In a broader sense, Katalin Dobó and the women of Eger represent all those Hungarian women, who in the face of great odds, have seen to it that the language, culture, and traditions of Hungary are preserved from generation to generation.

In 1566, another large Turkish force besieged the fortress of Szigetvár, in Southern Hungary. Miklós (Nicholas) Zrinyi, the Viceroy of Croatia, led the Hungarian and Croatian garrison in a resistance so stubborn that the frustrated Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent finally assumed personal command of the siege. When the fortress was in flames and clearly no longer defensible, Zrinyi and his 300 men stormed out in a suicidal counterattack during which nearly all of them died. This was one of the many instances of close collaboration between Croatians and Hungarians over the centuries. The Austrian Imperial forces refused to come to the town's defense, and the Turks were able to greatly expand their occupation of Hungary.

The two following figures, István (Stephen) Báthori and Gábor (Gabriel) Báthori - along with István (Stephen) Bocskay, (whose portrait is at the back of the chapel) - represent the special role that Transylvania has played throughout Hungarian history. During the 150 years that the Hungarian heartland suffered under Turkish rule and a sizeable portion of the rest under Habsburg domination, the Principality of Transylvania retained considerable autonomy and preserved the hope for an eventual reunification of the country. Elected Prince of Transylvania in 1570 and King of Poland in 1575, Stephen Báthori hoped that the alliance of these two states would facilitate the ouster of the Turks from East-Central Europe, but his premature death ended such designs.

Transylvania entered its golden age under the rule of Gabriel Báthori, from 1613 to 1629. A skilled soldier-statesman and patron of the arts, he transformed the Principality into a prosperous and powerful state that enjoyed domestic tranquility while being able to conduct an ambitious foreign policy. A staunch Calvinist, Bethlen developed close ties with Protestant Europe, thus opening a channel for valuable commercial and intellectual exchanges with Western and Central Europe.

A distinctive feature of Transylvania during these times was religious tolerance. At the diet of Torda in 1557, and at subsequent assemblies, the right to religious freedom was codified. This was some 40 years before the Edict of Nantes, and in fact the Torda accord was much broader in scope than the famous decree by the French King Henri IV. Catholics, Calvinists Lutherans, and Unitarians exercised full religious and political rights in Transylvania. This strong attachment to human rights remains deeply engrained in the psyche of the Hungarians living in Transylvania, which was given to Romania after World War I. The Transylvanian Hungarians play a key role in overthrowing the brutal Ceasescu regime, and they continue a daily struggle for the rights they exercised freely in the 16th and 17th-centuries.

Ferenc (Francis) Rákoczi's portrait is next. This unassuming young prince from Northeastern Hungary reluctantly accepted command of a rebellion against Austrian imperialism. When Hungary was finally liberated from the Turks at the end of the 17th century, the country was devastated and underpopulated. The Austrian Emperor Leopold I compounded the miseries by imposing a reign of political and religious persecution, trying forcibly assimilate the country into the Austrian Empire. The Rákoczi rebellion began in 1703 as a reaction to these excesses. It was spontaneous, national uprising, joined by all strata of Hungarian society. The seven year struggle ended when it became obvious that the necessary help from France or Poland would not materialize. Rákoczi never accepted the peace treaty ending the rebellion; refusing an imperial pardon, he abandoned his large landholdings and fled to Turkey, where he died in 1735.

Another war of independence swept across Hungary in the mid- 19th century, this one led by Lajos (Louis) Kossuth, whose portrait comes next. Beginning in the second quarter of the 19th century, Hungary entered period of great vitality and renewal. There was a candid recognition of the country's many failings, and a serious effort was launched to correct them. Progress, however, was stymied by a prolonged debate over how to proceed. A segment of the upper nobility, best represented by Count István Széchenyi, felt the changes must be gradual and non-confrontational. Louis Kossuth, as the spokesman for the lesser nobles and the bourgeois argued for more radical reforms and full independence from Austria. A brilliant publicist and orator, Kossuth persuaded many of his countrymen choose the radical path. He was aided in this by the intransigent Habsburg court, which denied even the modest reforms sought by Széchenyi a thereby convinced many Hungarians that a complete break with the monarchy was necessary.

In 1848, popular uprisings were flaring across much of Europe. On March 15, a large, peaceful demonstration was held in Budapest. The gathering of mostly students and intellectuals, including the famous poet Sándor (Alexander) Petőfi and writer Mór Jókai, presented a list of 12 demands for the recognition of Hungary's rights. By mid April, the Austrian authorities professed their acceptance of these demands and of Hungary's status as a co-equal state; meanwhile, they were undermining the Hungarian position by inciting the other nationalities of the Empire. When Hungary was assaulted by an army from Croatia in the fall, the Hungarians resisted and the Revolution was in full swing, under the inspiring leadership of Kossuth. Proving to be a very effective fighting force, the Hungarians repelled the invaders and humiliated the Austrians in several other engagements until the Russian Czar intervened. Hopelessly outnumbered by the combined Austrian and Russian armies, the Hungarians capitulated at the town of Világos on August 13, 1849. Thirteen Hungarian generals were executed in the town of Arad on October 6, and later that same day, the Prime Minister of Kossuth's government, Lajos (Louis) Batthány was executed in the city of Pest. Another reign of terror descended on the country, as the victors exacted harsh retribution from all who had supported the uprising.

As had Rákoczi before him, Kossuth fled to Turkey, and from there went to England and the United States in an attempt to gain support for the Hungarian cause. He was given a hero's welcome in the United States and addressed a Joint Session of Congress. His spellbinding oratory and linguistic genius drew huge crowds to his speaking tours. Though he generated much goodwill for Hungary, no foreign power would intervene on her behalf. Until his death in 1894, he remained opposed to any compromise with Austria, and while never returning to his native soil, exerted enormous influence on the country's affairs through his many supporters.

Many of Kossuth's associates accompanied him to the United States in 1851; a good number remained here and participated later in the Civil War, attaining high ranks in Lincoln's Army. Among the most famous were Sándor (Alexander) Asboth and Gyula (Julius) Stahel Szamvald. They both became Major Generals and are bused in Arlington National Cemetery. General Szamvald was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery at the Battle of Piedmont. General Asboth died in Buenos Aires while serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina; returned to the U.S. in 1990, his remains lay in state in the Alba Regia Chapel before reburial in Arlington National Cemetery an October 23, 1990.

The last picture among the "defenders of the nation" is of the "Kids of Post." They represent the many teenagers and even children who confronted Russian tanks in the streets of Budapest during the Revolution of October, 1956. Often unarmed, or equipped only with 'Molotov cocktails' (explosives concocted of gasoline in a bottle and equipped with a makeshift fuse) these youngsters displayed a heroism that electrified the world. Spoon-fed Marxism-Leninism from their earliest years, they saw through the chicanery of this alien ideology, and recognized its devastating effect on their families and their nation. Like the women of Eger, four centuries earlier, they realized that the situation had become so desperate that it could not be resolved by the adult, male members of society alone. Though the communist regime lingered for another 35 years, the bloodshed of Budapest in 1956 exposed its moral bankruptcy, and the demise of proletarian dictatorships became but a matter of time. As Milovan Djilas wrote on November 15, 1956: "The Revolution in Hungary means the beginning of the and of Communism generally."

As in 1849, a brutal repression followed the crushing of the 1956 Revolution. Thousands were imprisoned or otherwise punished and hundreds were executed, including Imre Nagy, the Prime Minister of the revolutionary government. Particularly vicious was the treatment of dozens of young revolutionaries, some of whom were executed as late as 1962; since Hungarian law forbade the execution of a minor, the authorities waited until these youngsters reached their eighteenth birthday before killing them.

At the back of the chapel, arranged on both sides of the organ, are the portraits of four prominent Hungarian religious figures, representatives of the Catholic and the Protestant Churches.

Peter Pázmány, who became the Cardinal Primate in 1616, is the outstanding figure in the history of Hungarian Catholicism. During the counter-reformation, Cardinal Pázmány brought many of his countrymen back to the catholic fold. He achieved this not by threat or force but through the genius of his sermons and writings, relying in fact on the same tools of persuasion that the Protestants had used so effectively. Through his prose and his educational reforms, Cardinal Pázmány's influence extended well beyond the religious sphere; one of the institutions of higher education he founded exists today as the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. A new Catholic University being established now will be named after him.

József Cardinal Mindszenty hardly needs introduction. As a leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary during and after Word War II, he was the victim - like so many Hungarians of high principles - of both Nazi and Communist persecution. He was first arrested by the Arrow Cross fascist regime in 1944 for protesting the persecution of the Jews. Freed in 1945, he was rearrested by the communists in 1948 on trumped up charges, brainwashed, forced to plead guilty at a scandalous show trial, and sentenced to life imprisonment. His great courage and refusal to collude with the Communists inspired millions of people behind the Iron Curtain during the darkest Stalinist years. Liberated during the Revolution of 1956, he spent 15 years as a refugee in the American legation in Budapest after the uprising was crushed. In 1971, he left the Legation as the result of an agreement between the Vatican and the Hungarian Communist government. Cardinal Midszenty was greeted triumphantly wherever he traveled, including during his two visits to the United States in 1972 and 1974. He died in Vienna in 1975. In 1991, fulfilling his vow to return home only when the Communists were out of power, his remains were exhumed from the Cathedral of Mariazell in Austria and reburied in the Cathedral of Esztergom his diocesan seat in Hungary.

István (Stephen) Bocskay is famous for having restored the rights of Hungarian Protestants in the early 17th century. Originally supporting the Habsburg regime, Bocskay switched allegiance when the Austrian camarilla tried to confiscate the estates of the Hungarian nobility and curtail religious liberty. With an army composed primarily of Hayduks, the tough soldier-herdsmen from the eastern plain, he forced the Imperial troops out of Transylvania and Upper Hungary. At the Peace of Vienna in 1606, the Emperor Rudolph recognized Bocskay as the Prince of Transylvania, accepted Transylvania's independence, and guaranteed religious freedom for the Protestants living in the regions of Hungary under imperial control.

The portrait next to Bocskay is of László (Leslie) Ravasz, a bishop of the Hungarian Reformed Church who, like Cardinal Mindszenty, suffered under the communists. In addition to his pastoral activities, he was a teacher, prolific writer, and member of the Hungarian Academy of Science!

No discussion of Hungarian religious history can neglect the Jewish community, which has contributed so much to the Hungarian genius. The great tragedy of this community was, of course, the Holocaust of 1944-45. Hungary had been a relative sanctuary until this time, but when the Germans and their Hungarian Arrow Cross allies took over the government the Jews suffered the same terrible fate as in the other countries of Europe dominated by the Third Reich.

Returning to the altar, we have now come nearly full circle. Clustered there are the portraits of four saints from the 11th and 13th centuries; Imre (Emery), Margit Margaret), Erzsébet (Elizabeth), and Kinga.

Saint Emeric was the son of St. Stephen. A morally upright and well educated person, he was in many ways the ideal heir to the throne; his death at age 24 during a wild boar hunt was a tragic loss for the nation. He was canonized along with his father in 1083.

Saint Margaret, the daughter of Béla IV, was a Dominican contemplative nun who spent most of her life in a convent on the island between Buda and Pest that now bears her name. She lived in the most simple manner humbling herself and praying constantly for the salvation of her people Pope Pius XII canonized her in 1943.

Saint Elizabeth, the daughter of Andrew 11, was married at age 14 1 the Landgrave Louis IV of Thuringia. She was deeply devoted to God and to serving the poor. According to a legend, her husband once accosted her while she was carrying bread concealed in her cloak to the poor. When she opened the cloak, the loaves had turned to roses. She died at age 24 and was canonized in 1235.

Kinga (sometimes referred to as Kunegunde, Kioga, or Zinga) was the daughter of Béla IV, a niece of St. Elizabeth, and sister of St. Margaret Married to King Boleslas V of Poland, she performed many charitable works and was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. During the Tatar, invasion of Poland in 1287, she is believed to have saved a besieged castle through her prayers. Her last years were spent in a convent of Poor Clare at Stary Sacz. Kinga is considered the patroness of Poland and Lithuania.

These early saints start an unbroken line of exceptional men and women who, to this day, have woven for Hungary an authentic and lasting moral fabric. Often condemned as infidels, nonconformists, or enemies of a Materialist state, they have clung to Principles that proved more permanent than those of their oppressors.

The crypt below and the cemetery next to the chapel are the eternal resting places for many Hungarians from all over the world. Among those buried here are: Lajos Veress de Dalnok, the first President of the World Federation of Hungarian Freedom Fighters' and highly decorated Hungarian general sentenced to death by both the Fascists and Communists for his resistance to foreign occupation; Ilona Massey Dawson, the principled supporter of Hungary and Hollywood star; Lászlo Sirchich, who dedicated his life to fighting for the human rights of Hungarians living in Czechoslovakia, and Count Béla Teleki from Tansylvania.

The chapel grounds are dotted with symbolic graves commemorating the heroes of the 1956 Revolution and soldiers who have defended Hungary through the centuries. There are also memorials to the Hungarians who fought in the American Revolution and the Civil War, simple but powerful reminders of the intertwined histories of the United States and Hungary.

Though once again free, Hungary still faces enormous problems. Some of them - such as the shockingly high rates of suicide, divorce alcoholism, abortion - are a serious threat to her moral fiber and her very survival; these are domestic ills which the society can cure by internal reforms and a recommitment to time-honored moral principles. Other problems are external, imposed by an often hostile environment over which the country has little control, but Hungary and the Hungarian spirit must endure, as they have since 896.

By drawing on the lessons of Hungary's 1100 year history, respecting her rich traditions, and strictly observing timeless human and spiritual values, the current generation can rebuild a prosperous, peaceful, and just Hungary. As the script says on the crypt wall of the Alba Regia Memorial Chapel:

"WHENEVER A PEOPLE FORGETS IT WORTHY PAST, THE DAY WILL COME WHEN IT WILL NOT HAVE A PAST WORTH REMEMBERING"

Gabor Horchler (1993)

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