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Saint Stephen I
Apostolic King of Hungary
King of Hungary
Reign 1001 – 1038
Coronation 25 Dec. 1000/ 1 Jan. 1001
Predecessor Himself as Grand Prince
Successor Peter I
Grand Prince of the Hungarians
Reign c. 997 – 1000
Predecessor Géza
Successor Crowned King of Hungary
Spouse Giselle of Bavaria
Saint Emeric
House House of Arpad
Father Géza of Hungary
Mother Sarolt of Transylvania
Born  ? 967 - 975
Esztergom, Principality of Hungary
Died 15 August 1038 (aged 62-71)
Esztergom or Székesfehérvár, Hungary
Burial Székesfehérvár, Hungary

Saint Stephen I (Hungarian: I. (Szent) István) (Latin: Sanctus Stephanus) (Esztergom, 967/969/975 – 15 August 1038, Esztergom-Szentkirály[1][2][3] or Székesfehérvár, Hungary) was Grand Prince of the Hungarians (997–1000) and the first King of Hungary (1000–1038). He greatly expanded Hungarian control over the Carpathian Basin during his lifetime, broadly established Christianity in the region, and he is generally considered to be the founder of the Kingdom of Hungary. Pope Gregory VII canonized Stephen I, together with his son, Saint Emeric of Hungary and Bishop Gerard of Csanád, on 20 August 1083, becoming one of the most popular saints in Hungary, and his birthday is celebrated as a state holiday commemorating the foundation of the nation.


Early years

Saint Stephen I in Budapest

Saint Stephen was born "Vajk"[4][5] in the town of Esztergom[4]. His father was Grand Prince Géza of Hungary[4]; his mother was Sarolt[6], daughter of Gyula of Transylvania [7] a Hungarian nobleman who had been baptized in Greece [8]. Though Sarolt was baptized into the Orthodox Christian faith at her father's court in Transylvania [9] by the Greek bishop Hierotheos,[6][10] she did not persist in the religion[11]. According to his legends, Vajk was baptized a Christian by Saint Adalbert of Prague.[12][13] He was given the baptismal name Stephen (István) in honour of the original early Christian Saint Stephen.[14] The baptised name was possibly chosen on purpose, as it doesn't mean only "crown" as mentioned, but also, and "norm, standard" in Hebrew.[15] So the mission of St. Stephen was to grant a norm to Hungary through the Holy Crown (also called the Doctrine of the Holy Crown). However, another reason could be thought of: that Stephen, as fiancé of a woman from the diocese of Passau, simply wanted to do honour to the then-major saint of Passau, Saint Stephen, after whom the Passau Cathedral is named up to today.

When Stephen reached adolescence, Great Prince Géza convened an assembly where they decided that Stephen would follow his father as the monarch of the Hungarians.[16] This decision, however, contradicted the Magyar tribal custom that gave the right of succession to the eldest close relative of the deceased ruler.

Stephen married Giselle of Bavaria[4], the daughter of Henry II the Wrangler[4] in or after 995.[17] By this marriage, he became the brother-in-law of the future Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor. Giselle arrived to her husband's court accompanied by German knights.[18]

Ruling prince of the Hungarians

In 997, his father died and a succession struggle ensued.[16] Stephen claimed to rule the Magyars by the principle of Christian divine right, while his uncle Koppány, a powerful pagan chieftain in Somogy, claimed the traditional right of seniority.[18] Eventually, the two met in battle near Veszprém and Stephen, victorious, assumed the role of Grand Prince of the Hungarians. Stephen's victory came primarily thanks to his German retinue led by the brothers Pázmány and Hont[19]. The nearly contemporary deed of foundation of the Abbey of Pannonhalma clearly described the battle as a struggle between the Germans and the Magyars. Thus, Stephen strengthened his power in Transdanubia, but several parts of Hungary still did not accept his rule.

Statue of King Stephen I of Hungary and Queen Giselle in Veszprém (Hungary)

According to Hungarian tradition Pope Silvester II, with the consent of Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor, 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. Later this tradition was interpreted as the papal recognition of the independence of Hungary from the Holy Roman Empire. The date of Stephen's coronation is variously given as Christmas Day, 1000 or 1 January 1001.

Stephen I is closely tied to the Crown of St. Stephen, and the Doctrine of the Holy Crown which marks a unique tradition of the Kingdom of Hungary. According to Hartwick's legend, during his coronation Stephen dedicated the crown to the Holy Virgin, thereby sealing a contract between God and the crown (which is therefore considered a "holy" crown). This contract is also the basis for the Doctrine of the Holy Crown, and the basis for the Apostolic Kingdom of Hungary. The actual crown which survives today was probably never worn by the king himself as it has been dated as originating in the 12th century, however the origin of the crown is hotly disputed.

First king of Hungary

King Stephen's statue in his hometown, Esztergom

According to the much argued Chronicon Pictum, the first king of the Hungarians is Attila the Hun, however, the codex repeats itself as Stephen I is also cited as the first king of Hungarians. It is argued by historians also, what exactly means in the Remonstrances to Emerick from St Stephen: "Regale ornamentum scito esse maximum: sequi antecessores reges et honestos imitari parentos", which translates to: "The greatest deed for the kingdom is to follow the old kings and imitate parents"; this means Stephen is referring to the "old kings" which could only be Attila and Nimrod. This also might mean that the constitution of the Kingdom itself was not deployed by St Stephen, but his ancestors.

What is confirmed, that after (or just before) his coronation Stephen I founded several dioceses, ie, the dioceses of Veszprém, Győr, Kalocsa, Vác, Bihar. He also established the Archdiocese of Esztergom, thus he set up an ecclesiastical organisation independent of the German archbishops. He also began to organize a territory-based administration by founding several counties (comitatus, megye) in his kingdom.

Stephen discouraged pagan customs and strengthened Christianity with various laws. In his first decree, issued in the beginning of his rule, he ordered that each ten villages would be obliged to build a church. He invited foreign priests to Hungary to evangelize his kingdom; Saint Astricus served as his adviser, and Stephen also employed Saint Gerard Sagredo as the tutor for his son Emeric (also rendered as Imre).

Around 1003, Stephen invaded and occupied Transylvania, a territory ruled by his maternal uncle, Gyula, a semi-independent chieftain; and after this victory, Stephen organized the Diocese of Transylvania. In the next few years he also occupied the lands of the Black Magyars in the Southern part of Transdanubia, and there organized the Diocese of Pécs. Shortly afterwards, it is believed that he made an agreement with Samuel Aba, the chieftain of the Kabar tribes settled in the Mátra region, who married Stephen's sister; in his brother-in-law's domains, Stephen founded the Diocese of Eger.

Finally, Stephen occupied the domains of Ajtony, a semi-pagan chieftain who had been ruling over the territories of the later Banat. Here Stephen set up the Diocese of Csanád.

External politics

A statue of the king in Miskolc

In his external politics Stephen I allied himself with his brother-in-law, the Emperor Henry II against Prince Boleslaw I of Poland, who had extended his rule over the territories between the Morava and Váh Rivers.[citation needed] Stephen sent troops to the Emperor's army, and in the Peace of Bautzen, in 1018, the Polish prince had to hand over the occupied territories to Stephen.

Shortly afterwards, Stephen sent troops to help Boleslaw I in his campaign against the Kievan Rus'. In 1018, Stephen lead his armies against Bulgaria, in alliance with the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, and collected several relics during his campaign.

After the death of Henry II ( 3 July 1024), Stephen broke with the German alliance, because the new Holy Roman Emperor, Conrad II claimed the supremacy over the Kingdom of Hungary, while Stephen demanded the Duchy of Bavaria for his son Emeric who was the nearest relative of the deceased Emperor Henry II (who himself had been the last male descendant of the old dukes of Bavaria). In 1027, Stephen had Bishop Werner of Strasbourg, the envoy sent by Conrad II to the Byzantine Empire, arrested at the frontier. In 1030, the Emperor lead his armies against Hungary, but Stephen's troops enforced their retreat. Stephen and the Emperor Conrad II concluded peace negotiations in 1031, and the territories between the Leitha (Hungarian: (Lajta)) and Fischa Rivers were ceded to Hungary.

His last years

Stephen intended to retire to a life of holy contemplation and hand the kingdom over to his son Emeric, but Emeric was wounded in a hunting accident and died in 1031. 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 for a very long time over the loss of his son, which took a great toll on his health. He eventually recovered, but 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. He did not want to entrust his kingdom to his cousin, Duke Vazul whom he suspected to be following pagan customs. The disregarded duke took part in conspiracy aimed at the murder of Stephen I, but the assassination attempt failed and Vazul had his eyes gouged out and molten lead poured in his ears. Unable to choose an heir, King Stephen died on the Feast of the Assumption (15 August) in the year 1038 at Esztergom-Szentkirály or Székesfehérvár, where he was buried. His nobles and his subjects were said to have mourned for three straight years afterwards.[citation needed]

His legacy

Following Stephen's death, his 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 King of Hungary in 1047 to re-establish the Árpád dynasty. Hungarian historiography saw Peter and Samuel as members of the Árpád dynasty, and both are counted among the Árpád kings.

The Holy Right, 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 Emeric and Bishop Gerhard (Hungarian: Szent Gellért). Thus Saint Stephen became the first of the canonized Confessor Kings, a new prototype of saints.

Roman Catholics venerate him as the patron saint of Hungary, kings, the death of children, masons, stonecutters, and bricklayers. St Stephen's feast day was not included in the Tridentine Calendar, because it would have taken place on the same day as the Feast of the Assumption, 15 August. It was added to the Roman Calendar in the year 1631 as a commemoration on the day of the feast of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux on 20 August. In 1687 it was moved to 2 September, where it would stay for 282 years until the revision of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints in 1969. 16 August, which had been the feast of Saint Joachim, was moved and the date became free for other celebrations to be added. The feast of Saint Stephen of Hungary was moved to that date, the day immediately after his death.[20]

Traditional Roman Catholics continue to celebrate the feast day of "St Stephen, King and Confessor" on 2 September either as a Semi-Double, Simple or a 3rd Class feast.

However, in Hungary the feast is observed on 20 August, the day on which his sacred relics were translated to the city of Buda. This day is a public holiday in Hungary.

The king's right hand, known as "The Holy Right," is kept as a relic. His body was mummified after his death[citation needed], but the tomb was opened and his hand was separated some years later. Except for this, only some bone fragments remained (which are kept in churches throughout Hungary). Hungarian Catholics honor the first king of their country on annual processions, where the "Holy Right" is exhibited.

The canonization of Saint Stephen was recognized by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople in the year 2000.[10]

The Holy Crown, popularly attributed to St. Stephen, was removed from the country in 1945 for safekeeping, and entrusted to the United States government. It was kept in a vault at Fort Knox until 1978, when it was returned to the nation by order of U.S. President Jimmy Carter. It has been enshrined in the Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest since 2000.


A miniature of the king from the Chronicon Pictum, 1360.
My dearest son, if you desire to honor the royal crown, I advise, I counsel, I urge you above all things to maintain the Catholic and Apostolic faith with such diligence and care that you may be an example for all those placed under you by God, and that all the clergy may rightly call you a man of true Christian profession. Failing to do this, you may be sure that you will not be called a Christian or a son of the Church. Indeed, in the royal palace, after the faith itself, the Church holds second place, first constituted and spread through the whole world by His members, the apostles and holy fathers, And though she always produced fresh offspring, nevertheless in certain places she is regarded as ancient. However, dearest son, even now in our kingdom the Church is proclaimed as young and newly planted; and for that reason she needs more prudent and trustworthy guardians less a benefit which the divine mercy bestowed on us undeservedly should be destroyed and annihilated through your idleness, indolence or neglect.

My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at very 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 to sacrifice”. Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak.

Finally be strong lest prosperity lifts 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 never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of just 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..

–Excerpt from Saint Stephen's admonitions to his son Emeric.

Artistic representation

King Stephen of Hungary has been a popular theme in art, especially from the 19th century on, with its development of nationalism. Paintings such as "The Baptism of Vajk" (1875) by Gyula Benczúr and many statues representing the king all over Hungary testify to Stephen's importance in Hungarian national thought.

The last complete opera by the Hungarian composer Ferenc Erkel is István király (1885) (King Stephen). The best known representations of St. Stephen in music are Ludwig van Beethoven's King Stephen Overture, and the 1983 rock opera István, a király (Stephen, the King) by Levente Szörényi and János Bródy. Szörényi's Veled, Uram! (2000) (With You, my Lord!) was a sequel to István, a király.

The crown is represented in the painting of Edward Burne-Jones, started in 1881, The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon.

See also


  1. ^ István halála
  2. ^
  3. ^ Hankó Ildikó: Királyaink Tömegsírban
  4. ^ a b c d e "Stephen I". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
  5. ^ He was referred to as Waic by Thietmar of Merseburg. "Vajk" is probably a turkic name meaning "rich" or "hero", but it may have originated from the Hungarian word for butter ("vaj"), as well.
  6. ^ a b History of Latin Christianity. Michigan State University. pp. 398.,M1. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
  7. ^ Some Polish sources claim his mother 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,
  8. ^ "The Penny Cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful". p. 29.,M1. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  9. ^ "Foundation for Medieval Genealogy". Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
  10. ^ a b "Országalapító királyunk és a keleti hagyományok kapcsolatáról" (in Hungarian). Új Ember (Catholic weekly). 2005-08-21. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  11. ^ Engel, Pal; Andrew Ayton (2005). The Realm of St Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary. pp. 27. ISBN 185043977X.,M1. 
  12. ^ "St. Stephen". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  13. ^ "Legenda maior Sancti Regis Stephani" ("The major legend of King Saint Stephen")
  14. ^ The name "Stephen" derives from the Greek στεφανος, "stephanos," meaning "crowned."
  15. ^ According to Legenda Aurea by Jacobus Voragine
  16. ^ a b Legenda maior Sancti Regis Stephani (The major legend of King Saint Stephen)
  17. ^ Hermann of Reichenau: Chronicon de sex ætatibus mundi (Chronicle of the six ages of the world)
  18. ^ a b Chronicon Pictum
  19. ^ Some authors call them Poznan and Hunt claiming that Poznan was a Slovakian landholder in the Nitra region, but the sources seem to strengthen the idea that the brothers arrived to Hungary in the company of Giselle.
  20. ^ "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), pp. 100, 137

External links

Stephen I of Hungary
Born: c. 967 Died: 15 August 1038
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Grand Prince of the Hungarians
997 – 1000
Succeeded by
became king
Preceded by
himself as ruling prince
King of Hungary
1000 – 1038
Succeeded by
Peter Urseolo



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