AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HUNGARIAN CORONATION JEWELS

THE CROWN OF SAINT STEPHEN I.

There is no other nation in the world, who would keep in such a high reverence, have such a high respect for, love with such a mystical adoration their national relic as the Hungarians do with their crown, the Hungarian Holy Crown. There is no other nation to be found, whose national relic's source, origin and age are so much unanswered, surrounded with such a mystery, and went through such fantastic adventures as did the crown of the Hungarians. Believed to be the crown of the first Hungarian king, Saint Stephen I. (1000-1038), this crown was pawned or lost, stolen or seized, stashed or rescued and was kept in more royal courts, towns, castles and citadels than any other nation's coronation jewel. Wars were waged for this crown and it happened that it was dug underground in a iron chest or in a crude oil barrel. Every time the Holy Crown returned to Hungary, it brought about an elevated emotional, solemn atmosphere in the entire country, and its power was so enormous over the nation that the people knelt down before the coach carrying the crown, as they did later before the train bringing home the remains of Louis Kossuth.

The above examples meant to say that the Holy Crown was not only a crown for the Hungarians. It represented something much bigger and universal. The Holy Crown had divine power for them and symbolised the whole kingdom, the territory of the country, the entire Hungarian nation. That is why it was more important than anything else for the Hungarians to rescue and safeguard the crown in decisive historic periods, because if there was no Holy Crown, there was no Hungary. This is the reason why king Bela IV. rescued it to the fortress of Klissa (Croatia today) from the Tartar invasion (1241), king Matthias bought it back from Vienna for an astrological [astronomical] price (1463), Peter Perenyi hid it in his citadel of Fuzer from the Ottoman invasion (1526), Louis Kossuth dug it underground in an iron chest near Orsova (Rumania today) after the surrender to the Habsburgs at Vilagos (1849) and Ferenc Szalasi rescued it to Austria from the invading Red Army and dug it underground in an oil barrel (1945). These historic events are only few examples from the horrendous adventures the Hungarian Holy Crown went through but they all deliver the same message, i.e. as long as the Holy Crown is safe and exists, Hungary is safe and exists.

The unique role the Holy Crown had in the Hungarian history brought about the development of a doctrine called the "Holy Crown Theory". Initiated by king Kalman the Booklover (1095-1116), this theory holds that the utmost ruler of Hungary is not the king but the Holy Crown. In the kingdom, everything, i.e. country, towns, lands, belong not to the king but to the Holy Crown. The ultimate power is not that of the king but the crown's and, for example, if a dynasty died out, their land did not return to the king (where it came from) but to the crown. The territories which joined Hungary (Croatia, Dalmatia, Sclavonia, Rama [Bosnia], Serbia, etc.) click to see maps and shields were not absorbed into Hungary but became "members of united territories of the Hungarian Holy Crown". Verdicts were declared in the name of the Holy Crown and not the king, and during those troublesome times when the country had no king, the civil leaders swore in for the Holy Crown. (The final form of the "Holy Crown Theory" was drafted and published by Stephen Werboczy, a jurist, in his book called Tripartium, 1517, Vienna).

In 1945, the US Army seized the Hungarian Holy Crown, and according to a statement No 687, issued by the State Department in 1951, the US Government did not consider it as a spoils of war but stored it as a deposit. The Holy Crown was kept in Fort Knox, KY, the same place where the US keeps its gold treasure, and it finally returned to Hungary on January 5 1978, when State Secretary Cyrus Vance transferred it to the possession of the Hungarian Government.

The Hungarian Holy Crown consists of two separate parts, i.e. the lower circular crown called the Greek crown (corona graeca) and the upper arch-type crown called the latin crown (corona latina).

The lower circular crown was given as a gift to the Hungarian king Geza I. by the Byzantine emperor Michael Dukas in 1074. Made in the goldsmith shops of the emperor, the front perimeter of the circular crown has 5 semicircular and 4 triangular enamelled golden plates in alternating sequence. In the central plate, the figure of Jesus Christ can be seen sitting on a throne, raising his right hand for blessing and holding a book in his left. This is a typical representation of Christ in the Byzantine art, where he is shown as the World Ruler (Pantokrator). From Christ to the lower left and right, Gabriel and Michael archangels look toward Jesus. Next to Michael is the picture of Saint George (a warrior saint in the byzantine mythology) followed by Saint Kosma (a healing saint). Next to the Gabriel is the picture of Saint Demetrius (a warrior saint) followed by Saint Damjanus (a healing saint). In the back, at the opposite location to the Pantokrator Christ, the enamelled golden plate of Michael Dukas, Byzantine Emperor can be seen holding a regal sign in his right hand and a sword in his left. From him to the lower left and right, emperor Constantin, Jr. and Hungarian king Geza I. look toward Dukas. In the front, beneath the plate of Christ, a large blue indian sapphire gem is located followed by on both sides between the plates of the saints a red almandine garnet, another sapphire and a green glass stone. In the back, beneath the plate of Michael Dukas, a large sapphire gem is located. On the hind perimeter of the corona graeca 18 pearls are sitting, and four little golden chains with gems at their tips are clinging on the left and right side of the crown and one in the back. In the Middle Ages, the gems had their own meaning. According to this, the blue sapphire symbolized the see, the red almandine the fire, the green glass the earth, and together they represented the Universe.

The upper part of the Holy Crown is the older one which was sent by Pope Sylvester II. to Saint Stephen I, the first Hungarian king in 1000 A.D. in recognition of his mission to turn the pagan Hungarians to christianity and to recognize the Hungarian state. On the top of the corona latina, the enamelled golden plate shows again the World Ruler Christ (Pantokrator) raising his right hand for blessing and holding a book in his left. The upper part of the Holy Crown has an arch-type design and carries pictures in enamelled golden plate of 8 apostles. Ahead of Christ comes the picture of John and Bartholomew, to the right Peter and Andrew, to the left Paul and Philip, to the back James and Thomas. The figures are surrounded by filigree ornaments made of golden wire, pearls and almandine garnets. On the top plate of the arch, a golden cross is mounted which is not the original one. It is believed that the original cross was a relic holder and contained a little piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified. This cross was broken off and later replaced by the present one which was originally in upright position and its leaning posture is likely due to a physical damage. The earliest representation of the Holy Crown dating from the 17th century already shows it in leaning position. The two parts, the lower circular Greek crown and the upper arch-type latin crown was attached together by Hungarian king Geza I. at the end of the 11th century, and it is proven that the complete Hungarian Holy Crown already existed in 1166. So, it is more than 800 years old.

The Hungarian Holy Crown is a harmonic complex of many styles of art, fine goldsmith's and artistic works, so it truly counts for a masterpiece. Apart from that, it represents their country, nation and culture for the Hungarians, and such, it is much more than just a regal jewel for them, it is their highest regarded national relic. If the Holy Crown were able to speak, it could tell all the ups and downs, despairs and hopes, anguishes and happiness, cares and cheers the Hungarians went through with their crown during their history which made them, the Holy Crown and the nation, two unseparable parts.

THE CLOAK

The coronation cloak is an invaluable piece of the history of art. Originally designed as a closed chasuble, it is made of dark purple Byzantine silk and embroidered with golden thread. The latin inscription running across its surface horizontally reveals its origination and age: "Casula hec operata et data ecclesiae Sanctae Mariae sitae in civitate Alba anno incarnacionis xpi MXXXI indiccione XIII a Stephano rege et Gisla regina" (i.e. This chasuble was made in the 1031st year of the reincarnation of Christ, in the 13th indiction, by king Stephen and queen Gisela, and was given to the Saint Mary abbey at Fehervar). According to this, the cloak is more than 900 years old. On the back of the cloak, there is a large Y-shaped cross in the middle. Between its branches, a row of angel figures are standing, and at the cross of the branches, Christ is shown in an oval circle as he steps on a dragon and a lion, as the sign of his victory over death and sin. To his right and left, Saint John evangelist and Mary are shown as she prays with her hands raised in Byzantine style. Beneath the branches of the Y-shape, the prophets of the Old Testament stand in a semicircle, as they hold rolled books in their hands with their names above. The narrow band under the row of prophets carries the above quoted inscription of origination. In the middle of the next semicircle, the figure of Christ sitting on a throne is shown as he is raising his right hand for blessing and holding a book in his left. This is a typical representation of Christ in the Byzantine art, where he is shown as the World Ruler (Maiestas Domini). On his both sides, the sitting figures of the 12 apostles can be seen under a row of ornamental arcades, with small warriors above their heads which represents the fight between good and evil. In the lowest semicircle, the figures of the first martyrs of christianity are shown with pairs of birds and ornaments in the background. The two central figure on the bottom are king Stephen (Stephanus rex) holding an orb and a lance, and queen Gisela holding a model of an abbey. Between them, the unmarked picture of a young man is located who is probably their son, Prince Emericus who died at a young age.

The row of the figures as they follow each other in such a sequence on the cloak is not coincidental. It is the illustration of the one of the most well-known thanksgiving masses , the "Te Deum" which was composed by Saint Ambrosius, a bishop in Milan, Italy.

The chasuble was cut up and redesigned as an open cloak during the reign of king Bela III. and a collar with pearl embroidery was attached to it.

The coronation cloak is an integral piece of the Hungarian coronation relics which originates directly from Saint Stephen I. The author of the contemporary Austrian Rimes Chronicle wrote it for the first time that during the coronation of king Andrew III. in 1290, the king was wearing a holy dress which was also worn by Saint Stephen I.

THE SCEPTRE

The sceptre symbolized the power, the authority, the jurisdiction of the kingdom. The Hungarian coronation sceptre is an ancient type which rather reminds of a weapon (i.e. mace) than a sign of royalty. The head is made of a crystal sphere which is 7 centimetre (2.75 inches) in diameter and according to our present knowledge, it is the third largest hole-drilled crystal in the world. It is held in a setting which consists of three golden clamps covered with filigree ornaments made of gilded silver wires. The crystal is mounted on the top of a hazel handle also covered with gilded silver wire ornaments. The crystal sphere has three figures of crouching lions cut in it, and it is thought that it was made in the 10th century in Egypt, during the reign of the Fatimida kings. On the top of the clamps holding the crystal sphere, a magic knot is placed which is a common sign in the Byzantine mythology to prevent from trouble, and such are the little balls clinging small golden chains which, with their jingling sound kept the vicious spirits away. The present Hungarian regal orb was made during the reign of king Bela III. (1173-1196) and it is unique in its nature because the western kingdoms never used sceptres with a mace-like design. In the west, a cross or a lily ornament was commonly used, and sceptres similar to the Hungarian one in style were recorded from the era of the Persian kings. It was taken over from Persia by the nomadic Avar hordes who wandered and eventually settled in Transylvania. This explains the fact that excavations of Avar graves in Hungary today, the archaeologists found bone-spheres pinned on the tip of handles which resembled a mace.

THE ORB

The orb symbolized the territory, the country, the ground of the kingdom. There are orbs of other countries into which they put soil. The original orb which belonged to Saint Stephen I. was lost, and the present one is made of two silver hemisphere which are soldered together and gilded. On the top of the orb, the apostolic double-cross emerges which was awarded by Pope Sylvester II. to Saint Stephen I. in 1000 A.D. in recognition of his mission to turn the pagan Hungarian to christianity. To the front and the back of the orb, a little shield is attached which carry the joint coat of arms of the Hungarian "Arpad-stripes" and the Lilies of the House of the Anjou from Naples. This particular joint coat of arms is very rare and was used for a short period of time only by Charles Robert Anjou king reigning in Hungary between 1308-1342. This coat of arms could be attached later and it is possible that the orb is much older.

THE SWORD

The sword is the symbol of the defense of the country. Its role was that after the king was crowned, he rode on his horse to the top of the coronation hill and made four strikes with it toward the four points of the compass. This was the traditional sign that he will defend the country from attacks should it come from any direction. The original sword of Saint Stephen I. was lost, however, they store a viking sword in the Saint Vid cathedral in Prague since the 14th century, and an inventory made in 1368 called it the sword of Saint Stephen. The present sword was made in the 16th century, probably in Venice. It has a double-edged blade and a renaissance ornament at its hilt with a curved cross metal and a knobbed end. The scabbard is covered with red velvet and has belts for the king to attach it to his waist.

          1995 Andras Szeitz

The golden holder of the skull relic of Hungarian king St. Laszlo I, 1077-1095.

Map of the Kingdom of Hungary in the 18th Century

References:
1. Zsuzsa Lovag,The Hungarian Coronation Jewels. Budapest, Hungarian National Museum, 1978 (in Hungarian).
2. Lajos Csomor, The Holy Crown of Hungary, Vaja, The Adam Vay Society, 1984 (in Hungarian).
3. Peter Ruffy, Hungarian Relics, Hungarian Symbols, Budapest, Kossuth Konyvkiado, 1988 (in Hungarian).