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§ 36. The Conversion of the Magyars.


Joh. de Thwrocz: Chronica Hungarorum, in Schwandtner: Scriptores Rerum Hungaricarum, I. Vienna, 1746–8.

Vita S. Stephani, in Act. Sanctor. September.

Vita S. Adalberti, in Monument. German. IV.

Horvath: History of Hungary. Pest, 1842–46.

Aug. Theiner: Monumenta vetera historica Hungariam sacram illustrantia. Rom., 1859, 1860, 2 Tom. fol.


The Magyars, belonging to the Turanian family of nations, and allied to the Finns and the Turks, penetrated into Europe in the ninth century, and settled, in 884, in the plains between the Bug and the Sereth, near the mouth of the Danube. On the instigation of the Byzantine emperor, Leo the Wise, they attacked the Bulgarians, and completely defeated them. The military renown they thus acquired gave them a new opportunity. The Frankish king Arnulf invoked their aid against Swatopluk, the ruler of the Moravian empire. Swatopluk, too, was defeated, and his realm was divided between the victors. The Magyars, retracing their steps across the Carpathian range, settled in the plains around the Theiss and the Danube, the country which their forefathers, the Huns, once had ruled over, the, present Hungary. They were a wild and fierce race, worshipping one supreme god under the guise of various natural phenomena: the sky, the river, etc. They had no temples and no priesthood, and their sacrifices consisted of animals only, mostly horses. But the oath was kept sacred among them, and their marriages were monogamous, and inaugurated with religious rites.

The first acquaintance with Christianity the Magyars made through their connections with the Byzantine court, without any further consequences. But after settling in Hungary, where they were surrounded on all sides by Christian nations, they were compelled, in 950, by the emperor, Otto I., to allow the bishop of Passau to send missionaries into their country; and various circumstances contributed to make this mission a rapid and complete success. Their prince, Geyza, had married a daughter of the Transylvanian prince, Gyula, and this princess, Savolta, had been educated in the Christian faith. Thus Geyza felt friendly towards the Christians; and as soon as this became known, Christianity broke forth from the mass of the population like flowers from the earth when spring has come. The people which the Magyars had subdued when settling in Hungary, and the captives whom they had carried along with them from Bulgaria and Moravia, were Christians. Hitherto these Christians had concealed their religion from fear of their rulers, and their children had been baptized clandestinely; but now they assembled in great multitudes around the missionaries, and the entrance of Christianity into Hungary looked like a triumphal march.134134    See the letter from Bishop Pilgrin of Passau to Pope Benedict VI. in Mansi, Concil. I.

Political disturbances afterwards interrupted this progress, but only for a short time. Adalbert of Prague visited the country, and made a great impression. He baptized Geyza’s son, Voik, born in 961, and gave him the name of Stephanus, 994. Adalbert’s pupil, Rodla, remained for a longer period in the country, and was held in so high esteem by the people, that they afterwards would not let him go. When Stephanus ascended the throne in 997, he determined at once to establish Christianity as the sole religion of his realm, and ordered that all Magyars should be baptized, and that all Christian slaves should be set free. This, however, caused a rising of the pagan party under the head of Kuppa, a relative of Stephanus; but Kuppa was defeated at Veszprim, and the order had to be obeyed.

Stephanus’ marriage with Gisela, a relative of the emperor, Otto III., brought him in still closer contact with the German empire, and he, like Mieczyslav of Poland, borrowed the whole ecclesiastical organization from the German church. Ten bishoprics were formed, and placed under the authority of the archbishop of Gran on the Danube (which is still the seat of the primate of Hungary); churches were built, schools and monasteries were founded, and rich revenues were procured for their support; the clergy was declared the first order in rank, and the Latin language was made the official language not only in ecclesiastical, but also in secular matters. As a reward for his zeal, Stephanus was presented by Pope Silvester II. with a golden crown, and, in the year 1000, he was solemnly crowned king by the archbishop of Gran, while a papal bull conferred on him the title of “His Apostolic Majesty.” And, indeed, Stephanus was the apostle of the Magyars. As most of the priests and monks, called from Germany, did not understand the language of the people, the king himself travelled about from town to town, preached, prayed, and exhorted all to keep the Lord’s Day, the fast, and other Christian duties. Nevertheless, it took a long time before Christianity really took hold of the Magyars, chiefly on account of the deep gulf created between the priests and their flocks, partly by the difference of language, partly by the exceptional position which Stephanus had given the clergy in the community, and which the clergy soon learned to utilize for selfish purposes. Twice during the eleventh century there occurred heavy relapses into paganism; in 1045, under King Andreas, and in 1060, under King Bela.



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