The Myth of the Holy Crown of Hungary

King Charles IV, taking his coronation oath at Holy Trinity Column outside Matthias Church (1916). To date, he is the last monarch to be crowned with St. Stephen’s Crown. Notice the size difference between the crown and the king’s head.

In the Hungarian Constitution adopted in 2011 it is said that the Hungarian nation “boasts … the holy King Stephen, who created the Hungarian state … and became part of the Christian Europe” and “honors the Holy Crown, which symbolizes the constitutional continuity of statehood and unity of the nation. ” The mentioned crown is kept in the Hungarian Parliament building, and its image decorates the national coat of arms. Even leaving behind the archaic apparatus and the strong nationalism of the document, we remain with questions: how did the crown become a symbol of the parliamentary republic? And what does the medieval king have to do with it?

According to the legend often repeated by representatives of the nationalist political elite, this is the crown of the first Christian leader of the Hungarians, Stephen or Istvan. The Holy King Istvan is the most important figure in Hungarian historiography, because during his reign (about 997-1038) pagan and nomadic tribes of the Magyars created their independent state and converted themselves to Christianity. In 1083, Istvan was canonized, and this gives us the opportunity to speak of his holiness and the dynasty of the Arpads as God’s choice. Most information about his life was known to the world of “St. Stephen’s Life,” the medieval bestseller written by Bishop Hartvik in the years 1112-1116. There he speaks of how the Hungarian ambassador brought from Rome, from the pope, the crown and the apostolic cross, symbolically legitimizing the statehood and independence of Hungary. For a long time, the crown that is preserved in the Parliament building is considered the proof of the truth of this history, and most of the Hungarians still believe in it. In fact, this relic has another origin.

St. Stephen, the Hungarian king. Picture of Lukas Kranach after 1520.

The crown is made up of two parts, bottom and top. The lower part (the “Greek crown”) is a decorated Byzantine diadem with Greek inscriptions and pictures of Jesus Christ with the Archangels Michael and Gabriel (in front), four saints (in parts) and the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Duka, to the right and to his right is his son Constantine and the Hungarian king Geza I (in the back). It seems that in the 1070s Michael VII sent this crown to Geza I as a wedding gift. On the top (“Latin crown”) is the image of Christ and four apostles, and the inscriptions are in Latin. The union with the Greek crown was made in the 12th century. In the 16th century the cross appeared at the top of the crown. Therefore, it is obvious today that this crown is not connected either with St. Stephen or the pope.

The definition of the “holy crown of Hungary” first appeared in 1256, and the connection with St. Stephen was made by King Andras in 1292, when the legitimacy of royal power had to be attributed to Latin origin. Recently, crowning with this crown became obligatory to become a Hungarian monarch, and therefore the crown that had been the symbol of royalty became its bearer. For this reason, Robert of Anjou had to crown himself three times: in the years 1301, 1309 and 1310. The first two ceremonies took place without the holy crown and the Hungarian nobility recognized them illegitimate. In 1440, Queen Elizabeth of Luxembourg, with the help of a servant, stole the relic from the castle of Visegrad to secure the crowning of the future son, Ladislaus. Mattias Corvinus’s Italian columnist, Antonio Bonfini, wrote that “neither the ox, if decorated with the holy crown, should be considered holy king. ”

Empress Maria Theresia and the holy crown. Martin van Meytens . Oriented 1742

All the servants of the Hungarian king called themselves the servants of the royal crown (fidelis coronae regiae.) By the fourteenth century, the concept of “Hungarian historical territories” (which now included Hungary and territories of Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine, Slovakia and Austria) ) and these were called the “Crown of the Kingdom of Hungary” (corona regni Hungariae). After the Suleyman Magnificent occupied most of Hungary, at the ceremony oath that all the Hungarian kings said, the promise to “return and incorporate “to the crown the lost lands.

In Modern Era, the Hungarian crown continued to receive supernatural powers. Thus, in 1784, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and the King of Hungary Joseph II Habsburg decided to move the relic to Vienna. The population believed that this caused a lot of cataclysms that Hungary had envisioned after: famine and economic instability. Therefore, in 1790, the crown was returned to Buda. In the nineteenth century, the history of the papal origin of the crown was used as proof of the Hungarians’ right to sovereignty, and the medieval regal turned into a symbol of Hungary’s territorial independence and territorial integrity.

In the twentieth century, the history described by Bishop Hartvik was questioned for the first time, and the first half of the century had been disputed by historians who believed in the medieval legend and historians who believed that in reality the crown was sent to Stephen by German Emperor Otton III. Of particular importance was the question of the Great War, when Hungary lost much of its territory, and Miklos Horthy’s authoritarian regime, which collaborated with Nazi Germany, came to power. The crown was still considered a symbol of the Hungarian nation, statehood and territorial integrity, but the German version was already dominant.

The Crown, Sword, Sceptre and Globus Cruciger of Hungary, in the Hungarian Parliament Building

After the fall of Horthyst Hungary, the US representatives found the Hungarian crown hidden in Germany to defend it from the Soviets. The Americans took the crown to Fort Knox, where they were fully studied for the first time.

Today, the crown is still seen as a symbol of a whole complex of ideas, which presuppose first of all the territorial integrity of Hungary in the existing borders until the First World War, as well as the concept of the Hungarian state’s independence and the unity of the faithful nation of the historical ideals. Obviously, such a political ideology based on national myths and legalizing the territorial harassment of neighboring countries in the European Union seems to be archaic or even terrifying.

Text by Claudiu C. CREȚU

Photo source: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Narodna galerija Slovensko

Documentary source: Péter L. The Holy Crown of Hungary, Visible and Invisible.
Toth E., Szelényi K. Die heilge Krone von Ungarn: Könige und Krönungen.

© The Bunget Arts & Culture 2019

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