The Holy (Saint) Crown of Hungary


Like most objects from the ancient past - treasures or archaeological - the Hungarian Holy Crown is surrounded by intriguing mysteries; this is true in respect to its material history and its idealized concept of governing.  First, however, let's recap the official version of this Crown's unique history.


Exhibit 21: The Holy Crown of Hungary


According to the official version, the top cross section of the Holy Crown was given to István (Stephen, declared "Saint" in 1083), the first Christian king of Hungary in the year 1000 A.D. by Pope Sylvester II. The bottom band (hoop, rim) of the Crown was a present from the Byzantine Emperor, Michael Ducas to another Hungarian king, Géza I who ruled Hungary between 1074-1077. Eventually someone combined the two sections into one single crown.

Fleeing from the advancing Soviet Armies near the end of World War II, the guards of the Crown (in order to protect it) brought it to Austria and buried it. At the end of the war, they turned the Crown over to the American occupation forces; in 1978 the Holy Crown was returned to Hungary. In the early 1980s, some engineers and goldsmiths were given permission to make a close examination of the Crown and these examinations brought about many new discoveries and surprising results.

First the group of engineers and the group of goldsmiths, independently of each other, came to the conclusion that there is no difference between the top cross section and the bottom band as far as workmanship, material or any other aspect. The whole crown was made in one workshop at the same time.

The second astonishing discovery was based on the comparison made of the workmanship and material found in other jewelry and similar objects of the time. The crown had to have been fashioned around the late 300's or the early 400's A.D. in the area east of the Back Sea and south of the Caucasian Mountain divide (today's Georgia). It, unfortunately, is difficult to determine for whom the crown was made, or how it arrived in Hungary to begin with. Some suggest it may have been made for a Hun king, among others. After the demise of the Hun Empire, it wound up in the hands of the advancing Avars from the East as they conquered the Carpathian Basin around 560 A.D. Charlemagne subsequently conquered the Avars of western Hungary in 795-96 and some believe that the crown fell into his hands at some point. According to legend, Charlemagne was crowned by Pope Leo III on Christmas day in the year 800 with this very same crown. The Emperor ordered his subjects to bury him with it and this came to pass in 814.

In the year 1000 A.D., upon the insistence of Pope Sylvester II, the German Emperor Otto III was ordered to open Charlemagne's tomb and recover the crown. The Pope promised it to the Polish king Boleslo. The Hungarians must have known something about this crown, probably demanding that it be returned to them. So, Pope Sylvester in his dream received a message from God to give this Holy Crown to the Hungarian King for his services to the Catholic Church and for his good deeds to God. Hungary was a powerful country at this time - and if the Hungarians declared that the crown belonged to them - then it was their crown. On Christmas day in 1000 A.D., Saint István (Stephen) was crowned with the same crown that Charlemagne had been crowned with two hundred years earlier.


 Exhibit 22: The Coronation of Charlemagne by Fredrich Kaulbach


However farfetched and unbelievable this account may be, it was in fact a German Canon that initially led a Hungarian priest, István Szigeti, in the direction of this story. Ordered by the Bavarian governor, Maximilian II in 1850, a painting by Fredrich Kaulbach of the coronation of Charlemagne shows the crown in the Pope's hands - a crown with a uncanny resemblance to the Hungarian Holy Crown. Could it be mere coincidence? Or did influential people in the West know something about it and perhaps still do? However, if the results of German historian Heribert Illig's research is correct, then Charlemagne may have never existed! In that case this story has no basis to it at all. What a riddle!

The history of the idealized concept of this Crown is no less amazing or singular than the material one. Originally there were 4 martyred saints, 4 archangels, 8 apostles, God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary (altogether 19 enamel pictures) found on the crown; four of the original ones are now missing: two archangels, Apostle Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary.

God's picture is on the top, under the tilted cross; on the front is the image of Jesus, and across from it on the back was a picture of the Virgin Mary. At the top of Mary's frame was a tulip, which represented the Holy Spirit.  Isabelle, the wife of King Szapolyai broke off this tulip, when she turned the Crown over to King Ferdinand in 1541. With the pictures positioned in this manner, Christianity's basic doctrine (the Holy Trinity) manifests itself in the display. On Jesus' side are the military saints (Demeter and George) and the archangels, like Michael, carrying out the judgment of God. At Mary's side are the medical saints (Kozma and Damian) and the archangels, like Gabriel, bringing good news. The Apostles are: Peter, Andrew, John, Jacob, Thomas, Paul and Philip. Interestingly enough there are some ancient, so called "pagan" symbols (like the sun and the moon) that can also be found on the crown.

Gábor Pap, a Hungarian researcher, believes that the construction of the Holy Crown was designed on the religious teachings of the Persian prophet Manes. However, the origin of this philosophy could be traced back to the Scythians, according to Pap; this would also explain the so-called pagan symbols on the Holy Crown.


Exhibit 23: Etruscan wall painting and Jesus from the Holy Crown of Hungary


Recently Zsolt Mesterházy, another Hungarian researcher, recognized a parallel between an Etruscan wall painting and Jesus' picture on the Holy Crown. On the Etruscan painting, there is a male (god) figure holding an object between his thumb and his ring finger, seemingly offering it to the female (goddess) figure in front of him. The object itself could be a ring, a pearl, or a seed of some sort. The meaning of it, in all likelihood has some connection to the ancient fertility culture, which was a guiding force of the social order in early civilizations. A pearl can be seen between the same fingers of Jesus on the Hungarian Crown. This probably symbolizes eternal life. The Eastern Orthodox Church has many icons with a similar hand and finger position, but none of them has a pearl between the fingers. So it seems this may be additional proof that the Hungarian Holy Crown was made at the very same time and place that Christianity and the ancient cultures first made contact with one another.

There are only assumptions regarding just exactly when and why the Hungarian Crown became known as Holy, or in Hungarian: Szent. Even more intriguing is the question of when and why it was personified; when did it begin possessing the power to ‘rule’ like a living person? One must understand that in the Hungarian Kingdom everything belonged to the Holy Crown, which possessed all the powers of the land; the king merely enforced the Crown's laws. This was a highly idealistic form of governing. In one of his letters dated from the middle of the thirteenth century, King Béla IV (1235-1270) spoke of the Crown being Holy; he separated the king's power from the Crown's. Some suggest that this crown was made for Jesus, to crown him at the time of His resurrection as King of the World - that would account for the source of its holiness. It is incredibly intriguing that such a thought could crop up in anyone's mind. But, that's just part of its allure: the numerous unsolved mysteries surrounding the Hungarian Holy Crown.

Originally, only the nobility by birth enjoyed the protection of the Crown. Later those who acquired titles for service of the country were also included. However, in 1848 all citizens of the Holy Crown were entitled to the same protections, and charged with the same responsibilities.

Hungarians recognized their kings as rightful rulers only when they were crowned with the Holy Crown. This may be one reason for it having been stolen, buried and lost numerous times throughout the centuries; however miraculously – somehow – it has always been found again and again.