Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 16 August 2010

St Stephen of Hungary

Today is the feast of St Stephen of Hungary - except in Hungary itself where it is celebrated on August 20th
, which is said to be the day of the translation of his remains to Buda. For a variety of reasons I have always found the history of the Apostolic Kingdom of interest, and so I thought I would share some details about St Stephen in life, in death and in tradition.

I have based this post, with some additions and editing, on John Dillon's Medieval Religion discussion group post from last year.

St Stephen (d. 1038). Vaik was the son of the first Christian ruler of Hungary, grand prince Géza, with whom he was baptized at perhaps the age of ten. At his baptism he received the Christian name by which he is known (in Hungarian, István). Géza, who was an innovator in several important respects, saw to it that Stephen married into the ruling family of Bavaria; he also substituted male primogeniture for the seniorate as a principle of succession, thus making Stephen his heir apparent. After Géza's death in 997 Stephen won a succession struggle and proceeded to consolidate his rule over the Magyar clans, taking the title of king in about the year 1001. Traditionally it has been held that in 1000 he received his crown from Pope Sylvester II Stephen also consolidated Christianity in Hungary, ordering the building of churches across the kingdom and the collection of tithes to support their priests, establishing a diocesan structure under an archbishop, and forbidding intermarriage between Christians and others. He was canonized in 1083.

What is said to be St Stephen's right hand is preserved as a relic (the "Holy Right") in a chapel in his mostly nineteenth-century basilica in Budapest. There is a detailed article about the relic and about the Hungarian regalia, which has been associated with St Stephen in national perception for centuries, here. There is a photograph of the reliquary here, and this is the "Holy Right":


There is another photograph of the hand here.

St Stephen. (at right, together with his queen, Bl. Gisela of Hungary) as depicted in fresco in the thirteenth-century Gisela chapel (Gizellakapolna) at Veszprém here (the image is expandable) and here.

Here is St Stephen as depicted in a miniature in the Hungarian Képes Krónika (Chronicon Pictum: before 1360):

I think that is a particularly appealing example of fourteenth century manuscript art, and in its use of the arms of the Kingdom.

St Stephen. as depicted by by János Rozsnyai in the Crucifixion (1445) on the north wall of the sanctuary of the cathedral of Nagyszeben, can be seen here:

To this I would add this picture:

Procession of holy relics to parliament

Procession of the relics of St Stephen to the Parliament building in August 2000.

I will, hopefully, post more about the Holy Crown of St Stephen on August 20th.

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