Stephen I of Hungary

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Image:Aftnn King Stephen, who we reckon was responsible for Christianity in eastern Europe.jpg
Stephen the Great raising the double cross: equestrian sculpture by Alajos Stróbl, 1906, crowns the "Fishermen's Bastion", Budapest.

King Stephen the Great or St. Stephen of Hungary (Szent István király in Hungarian) (ca. 975August 15, 1038), was the first king of Hungary.


[edit] His life

His father was the Magyar ruling prince Géza; his mother was Sarolt, the daughter of the Transylvanian chieftain Gyula (some Polish sources claim she was the Polish princess Adelajda from the dynasty of the Piasts, the second wife of Géza, after Sarolt's death, but this version is generally rejected by historians).

Stephen was given the name Vajk (meaning hero) at birth. Born in the town of Esztergom, Vajk was baptized, as a precondition of accepting the crown from Rome, at age 10 by Saint Adalbert of Prague and given the baptismal name Stephen (in honour of the original early Christian Saint Stephen, protector of the church at Passau). This was fitting, as the name Stephen derives from the Greek στεφανος, stephanos, meaning 'crowned'.

Stephen was married in ca. 995 to Gizella of Bavaria, the daughter of Henry II the Wrangler and Gisela of Burgundy. He and Gizella had at least three children: sons St. Imre (also Henry or Emeric) and Ottó, and a daughter Hedvig. Stephen was predeceased by all his children; there were no direct descendants to claim the throne upon his death in 1038. Stephen's nephew Peter Urseolo (his appointed heir) and brother-in-law Samuel Aba contended for the crown. Nine years of instability followed until Stephen's cousin Andrew I was crowned Hungarian King, re-establishing the Árpád dynasty in 1047. Though Hungarian historiography saw both Peter and Samuel as a member of the Árpád dinasty.

Image:St. Stephen, Esztergom.jpg
King Stephen's statue in his hometown, Esztergom

Between 995 and 997, Stephen (still known as "Vajk") was the ruling prince of Nitra in present day Slovakia.

Stephen achieved supremacy over other Magyar nobles, most notably his pagan uncle, the powerful warlord Koppány. This victory over Koppány was achieved also thanks to Stephen's German retinue and the military assistance from the noble Poznan and Hunt families. Thus, Stephen became the Sovereign of Magyars in Transdanubia in 997 and managed to successfully unite virtually all Magyar clans by 1006. According to Hungarian tradition Pope Silvester II sent a magnificent jeweled gold crown to Stephen along with an apostolic cross and a letter of blessing officially recognizing Stephen as the Christian king of Hungary. The date of this coronation is variously given as Christmas day, 1001 or 1 January 1002. The "Holy Crown of Hungary" is identified with this crown in the national surmise.

Stephen intended to retire to a life of holy contemplation and hand the kingdom over to his only surviving son Imre, but in 1031 Imre was wounded in a hunting accident and died. In Stephen's words of mourning:

By God's secret decision death took him, so that wickedness would not change his soul and false imaginations would not deceive his mind – as the Book of Wisdom teaches about early death.

Stephen mourned a very long time over the loss of his son Imre (who was the crown prince and possibly the only one of Stephen's sons to reach adulthood), which took a great toll on his health. He eventually recovered, but he never regained his original vitality. Having no children left, he could not find anyone among his remaining relatives who was able to rule the country competently and willing to maintain the Christian faith of the nation. Unable to choose an heir, King Stephen died at Székesfehérvár (a city he built in central Hungary) on the Feast of the Assumption and was buried there. Both his nobles and his subjects were said to have mourned for 3 straight years afterwards.

[edit] His politics

The Holy Crown of St. Stephen

Stephen divided Hungary into 40-50 counties and continued the work of his father Géza by applying the decimal organizational system of his ancestors. He set up ten dioceses in Hungary, ordering every ten villages to erect one church and maintain a priest. He founded the cathedrals of Székesfehérvár and Esztergom, the Nunnery of Veszprém, the Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma, and the Monastery of Saint Peter and Paul in Óbuda. Inside the abbeys and monasteries, schools were established, and they became important centers of culture. Saint Astricus served as Stephen's advisor, and Stephen also had Saint Gerard Sagredo as the tutor for his son Saint Emeric (Imre).

Stephen discouraged pagan customs and strengthened Christianity with various laws, including ending the use of the old Hungarian runic alphabet and making Latin the official language of the royal court. Stephen gave generously to the churches, personally visited them often, and supervised their construction. He often disguised himself as a peasant whenever he traveled and freely gave money to any poor people he met (in one account, Stephen was beaten and robbed by a group of beggars to whom he was giving alms, but he forgave them and spared their lives).

[edit] His legacy

The Holy Dexter, the king's right hand

Shortly after Stephen's death, healing miracles were said to have occurred at his tomb. Stephen was canonized by Pope Gregory VII as Saint Stephen of Hungary in 1083, along with his son, Saint Imre and Bishop Gerhard (Gerard Sagredo; Saint Gellert). Catholics venerate him as the patron saint of "Hungary, kings, the death of children, masons, stonecutters, and bricklayers." His feast day is generally observed on August 16, except in Hungary where it is observed on August 20, the day on which his sacred relics were transferred to the city of Buda. This day is a public holiday in Hungary.

His right hand is kept as a relic, under the name "The Holy Dexter". The king's body was mummified after his death, but the tomb was opened and his hand was separated some years later. Except for this, only some bone fragments remained (what are kept in churches throughout Hungary). Hungarians honour the first king of their country on an annual procession, where the Holy Right is exhibited.

Stephen was also canonised by the Eastern Orthodox Church in 2000, thus became the first common saint in Orthodoxy and Catholicism since the Great Schism

The crown known as the Holy Crown of St. Stephen was removed from the country after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 for safekeeping, and entrusted to the United States government. It was kept in a vault until 1980, when it was returned to the nation by order of President Jimmy Carter. Amidst much controversy, it has been relocated in the Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest since 2000.

Excerpt from Saint Stephen's admonitions to his son Imre:

A miniature of the king from the Chronicon Pictum, 1360.
My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at every time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favor not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbors or fellow countrymen, but also to foreigners and to all who come to you. By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness. Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak.
Finally be strong lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honorable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.
All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown, and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain to the heavenly kingdom.

[edit] External links

Preceded by:
Ruling Prince of Hungary
Succeeded by:
became king
Preceded by:
himself as ruling prince
King of Hungary
Succeeded by:
Peter Urseolo
cs:Štěpán I.

de:Stephan I. (Ungarn) es:Esteban I de Hungría fr:Étienne Ier de Hongrie it:Santo Stefano D'Ungheria he:אישטוון הראשון מלך הונגריה hu:I. István nl:Stefanus I van Hongarije ja:イシュトヴァーン1世 no:Stefan I av Ungarn pl:Stefan I (król węgierski) pt:Estêvão I da Hungria ro:Ştefan I al Ungariei ru:Иштван I Святой sk:Štefan I. (Uhorsko) sr:Свети Стефан Мађарски fi:Tapani I (Unkari) sv:Stefan I av Ungern uk:Стефан I Святий zh:伊什特万一世

Stephen I of Hungary

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