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Hungary - Coat of Arms - Part 2

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image by Željko Heimer, 3 November 2001



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The Crown

I was asked: ""Szent Corona" means "saint's crown" in Hungarian. Is that term used frequently to identify St Stephen's crown?
The answer is no. The Holy Crown (Szent Korona) is the crown you can see as part of the nowadays Coat of Arms.
No data about the form of St. Stephen's Crown. Only legends. The Holy Crown was the crown of King St. Stephen by the legends.
The Holy Crown is symbolised the country and its people (of course before 1848 only lords, nobles) by the Idea of the Holy Crown. The Holy Crown ruled the country not the king. See information in English at <www.historicaltextarchive.com> .
István Molnár
, 30 October 2001

From the pages of the Embassy of the Republic of Hungary in Zagreb:
The institution of kingship in Hungary was established by King Stephen I, who was later canonized. His work of organizing the state and the church was embodied in the royal crown, which he received from Pope Sylvester II in the year 1000. He had himself crowned with it on the first day of the new millennium, while the rest of Europe quaked at the prospect of the end of the world and the coming of Antichrist.
This crown received from the Pope had a double significance. On the one hand it meant that the Hungarian king was spiritually a direct dependant of the Pope, and not, therefore, a vassal of the Holy Roman Emperor. So it symbolized, within bounds, the sovereignty of the kingdom. On the other hand, it was an emblem of secular rule given by the Pope to the king so that he might support the aspirations of the Roman Catholic Church in the country.
In depictions of the time, this crown bears no resemblance to the crown of today. The crown of King Stephen was the kind of jeweled open crown worn by almost all European monarchs at the turn of the millennium.
Although the first crown disappeared, the belief persisted for centuries in Hungary that the Holy Crown was identical with the one donated by the Pope to crown the king who founded the state. So what happened to the original Crown of St Stephen?
The most likely of the many views expressed by historians is that the original Hungarian crown was plundered by Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor. Since Hungarian sovereignty was temporarily suspended at the time, Henry returned the crown to Rome, where it vanished, or at least its fate is unknown.
The present crown, however, is also a relic of St Stephen. It is probably an amalgam of a reliquary for a skull and a Greek crown presented in about 1074 to King Géza I by the Byzantine Emperor Michael Ducas. It is presumed that the Holy Crown known today, symbolizing Hungarian kingship, existed by 1166. So the finest, most radiant relic of Hungarian history is more than 800 years old.
However, the crown went through every conceivable adventure down the ages. There can hardly be another historical art object that has been hidden in as many countries, places, castles, mansions and fortresses.
Battles and wars were fought and thrones toppled for possession of it. On occasions it has been lost while being brought back to Hungary from abroad. There were characters in history who simply purloined it, and others who kept it in secret. It has even been pawned, and buried during flight. It has been taken out of the country many times, and on each occasion, its return was a cause for solemn, national celebration. A special institution was set up to protect it, with guards chosen from the highest men in the land and a special military detachment.
Supporters of the extreme right-wing Hungarian government at the end of the Second World War took the crown to the West, where it came into the hands of the US military. The crown and other crown jewels were then kept in the United States, and some repairs even done to them, until 1978, when Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, at the behest of President Carter, ceremoniously returned them to Hungary. Since then, the crown and regalia have been on public display at the Hungarian National Museum.
The crown has two parts. Most researchers agree that these were merged in the last quarter of the 12th century.
On the lower part of the crown, which is of Greek origin, one of the enamel plates shows the bust of a king with the legend in Greek, "Geza, Loyal King of Turkia" (i.e. Hungary). On the king's head is a diadem that resembles the lower part of the crown without its upper parts and pendants. This, as mentioned, was presented by the Byzantine emperor to Géza, whose consort was the daughter of a Byzantine patrician. The upper part of the present crown closely resembles a medieval reliquary for a skull. In its original form, the bands forming a cross may have been adorned with pictures of the twelve apostles, surmounted by a plate holding the four bands together and bearing a picture of Christ Enthroned. When the reliquary was incorporated into the crown, one panel was cut from each band, leaving a total of eight pictures of apostles.
István Molnár, 30 October 2001

Istvan is, of course, right, but this small semantic difference that is so obvious to Hungarians is not quite understood by others, not even to Austrians and Croatians whith whom their history was so much intermigeled. So, what Hungarians call Holy Crown is called (in ignorancy) by "everybody else" (when they have need for calling it anyhow) St. Stephen's Crown. It is centainly so in Croatian documents regarding the crown (once it was a big issue in Croatia as if that crown "could" be set above the Croatian shield).
Željko Heimer, 30 October 2001

The same happens in English, German etc. heraldry sources. They all talk about St Stephen's crown as a way of designating what Hungarians call the "Szent Korona", rather than as authenticating a historical claim to the "real" crown of the saint.
Santiago Dotor, 31 October 2001

The decision to include the crown in the Coat of Arma of post-communist Hungary was controversial. A sizable minority in parliament (mostly centrist to leftist politicians) preferred a version of the Coat of Arms without the crown when post-communist symbols were being adopted, but at the time, the mood of the country was predominantly conservative. Even though there have been several center-left governments in the meantime, I don't think there has been any (serious) attempt from the Coat of Arms. I guess people have gotten used to it.
At the time, the critics pointed out that it is strange that a republic will have a royal crown upon the shield. , but there were a couple of factors in play, here. Other than in much of Western Europe, the current Hungarian republic did not replace a monarchy, but a communist regime. Therefore, the sentiment of the day was anti-communist, rather than anti-monarchist. In fact there was some discussion of installing some ancient Habsburg figure as Hungarian king, but I guess the whole thing seemed outdated and therefore the republic became sort of the default form of state.
So, there really wasn't a strong political reason to oppose a crown. Also, the Coat of Arms with crown had been in use before WWII and many people probably just felt nostalgic about "the good old days" before communism. In addition, Hungarians always have had a very sentimental attachment to the royal crown with the peculiarly bent cross, even during communism.
The crown itself had been exhibited in the National Museum. A few years ago, then prime minister Orbán sought to move it to parliament, something opponents of Orbán's right-populist government decried as a cheap political move. While being restored, the crown could not be seen by the public for a while, and at this moment I don't recall where it is now.
Thorsten, 17 March 2004

Regarding the Hungarian crown, I believe that by the tradition it is the "Holy Crown" that is the (symbolic) sovereign of the country and not any person, even if he is being the king. The crown symbolises the Hungarian people - as the real sovereign of the country. In that view of the maters, there is indeed no reason why there would be no crown.
Željko Heimer, 17 March 2004

The Szent Korona (Holy Crown) seems to be considered a symbol of the continuing sovereignty of the 1,000 year old Hungarian state, transcending questions of the form of government, and is thus a "crown of sovereignty" in the same manner as San Marino's.
Joe McMillan, 17 March 2004

I think that this explanation is a later fabricated meaning of the crown. It is called St. Stephan's crown but was originally made as a royal crown - thus of course in itself also marking the sovereignity of the kingdom of Hungary.
Elias Granqvist, 18 March 2004

The Holy Crown don't relates to the monarchy it relates to the independent Hungarian State and the 1000 years of the sovereign of the country.
Information abouth the Holy Crown as translated by Nora Bencsics:
The Hungarian Holy Crown was returned to Hungary in 1978. Dr. Csaba Ferencz, in collaboration with four of his engineering colleagues, has been investigating it ever since, and the results of their investigations have altered traditionally accepted assumptions about the crown. In the publication of their findings, they show that the Holy Crown is not, as originally thought, assembled from different pieces based on Roman and Byzantine models, but carefully designed and executed in the course of a single artistic endeavour.
"It seems clear that the band encircling the crown was never meant to show all twelve apostles, but was designed specifically to hold panels showing only eight apostles. The hoop at the base of the crown was never meant to be a stand-alone crown either, but was contrived to support the band. It is seems apparent that the design of the hoop and the band it supports, were specifically devised to bear a bent cross. Thus, the cross on the crown is bent not because of the many hardships the crown endured through the centuries, but because it was meant to be bent."
"Detailed expert examinations of the crown also show that the very spot where three images were replaced is part of the crown's base. This base was believed to have been the original crown which King Geza I received from Byzantium. But marks left by the replacement work prove that these three pictures, and only these three pictures, were affixed to the entire crown, not just separately onto its hoop."
"Finally, analysis indicates conclusively that the Holy Crown was truly Saint Stephen's crown."
".. Acknowledged expert opinion confirms that the bent cross on the crown is not the result of damage, but was planned this way at the time of its design. The angle at which the cross leans is approximately 23.5o . This is the earth's angle of rotation, as Aristarkhos wrote in his On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and the Moon in 280 B.C."
"Since the angle at which the visible sky and the Earth are separate from each other form an exact angle of 23.5o, the symbol of the juxtaposition of earth and the heavens is captured in the angle of the bent cross atop the crown. As a symbol, this is quite valid for those times; it also indicates an advanced understanding of astronomy."
"A bent cross on a crown is quite unusual, but for our purposes, this is irrelevant, since we know that at the time, the Holy Crown was not at all usual in any way, its design and construction completely unique. Furthermore, the bent cross and the angle at which it is bent are in complete accord with Christian symbolism around 1000 A.D. Undoubtedly this hints at considerable learning which stretches the limits of knowledge in those times. The bent cross further indicates that the crowned individual is the servant of God, having won from God the right to rule, and that he must rule faithfully according to divine law." (all excerpts from Ferencz Csaba: Saint Stephen's Crown)
Dr. Ferencz Csaba, b. October 23, 1941, at Csiksomlyo in Transylvania, (now Roumania). After World War II, his family had to flee, and thus he grew up in Mezobereny, Hungary. He graduated, receiving his degree as an electrical engineer, from the Budapest University of Technology. As a student, he had already begun his attempts to create a space program in Hungary, when in 1961 he assembled the first University of Technology Space Research Team. In 1965, he built a radio satellite, and in 1966, Central Europe succeeded at photographing clouds from a satellite for the first time. In 1968, just as the Warsaw Pact troops were marching into Czechoslovakia, he made transatlantic radio contact with America using the ATS3 satellite. The success of the space research team and its project leader was cause for the Communist government to restrict their research. At the same time, he was appointed as full-fledged university professor at the University of Technology. With a second team, he developed the first Hungarian satellite bridge device, a micrometeor electronic detector, with which the Interkozmos-12 satellite flew successfully in 1974. He took part in the creation of the first Hungarian academic spaceship program. In 1981, he became academic professor of technology at MTA; from 1991 on, he was a renowned professor at the University of Technology, and in 1995 the university made him professor-in-residence, and academic advisor in 1996. He is a member of EuroEngineer, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the Hungarian Engineer's Academy, holds a Budapest University of Technology honorary doctorate, and is a member of other national and international organizations. He is a recognized expert on space research, and also on electromagnetic wave emissions, and has more than 300 publications on electromagnetic wave theory, and is published in academic journals. In addition to this, he is a knight of one of the Catholic Church's organizations, the Cruciferi Sancti Stephani Regis (Saint Stephen's Order of Knights) and currently its grandmaster.
"Always remember that every man is born the same [before God] and that nothing raises you up but humility, and nothing casts you down but pride and hatred." - Saint Stephen, King to his son, Prince Imre; Esztergom, 1013 A.D.
István Molnár, 23 March 2004

I just wanted to add that if anyone wants to see the Holy Crown (eleventh - twelfth century) - which also appears on the state flag and the Budapest municipal flag for real, it is in the main hall at the beautiful Parliament building in Budapest, together with the other  Hungarian coronation regalia. Imagine my surprise to discover in May of this year, that upon production of my British passport, admission to the building - which is more exquisite than the Palace of Westminster in London - was free, as it was to citizens of other European Union countries.
Colin Dobson, 8 October 2004

It has been my understanding that the Holy Crown of Hungary is not simply "something that the king (or queen regnant) wears on his (or her) head".  The Holy Crown *is* the state; the king (or queen) governs the state on behalf of the crown, and of the Virgin Mary, whose realm Hungary was, since it is no longer a monarchy.  Some kings have had to hold multiple coronations, since preceding coronations were seen as at the very least unofficial, since they had not been crowned with the Holy Crown (Charles Robert had to be crowned three times, as the first two occasions were not with the Holy Crown).  While I'm sure this is not the view of the government of Hungary, as it is currently a republic, the fact that the Holy Crown has been at the Parliament Building since 2000 would seem to indicate the Crown has some form of symbolic authority.
Georges G. Kovari, 24 January 2009

Generally speaking, a royal crown is never just "something that the king (or queen regnant) wears on his (or her) head". The crown in a monarchy is the sign of the monarch and the power of the state, something in the way the sash of a president in Latin America or the seal of the president of the United States is the sign of the presidency in those countries. Thus, in many monarchies, "the crown" has been a common synonym for "the government". But if the form of government change, the symbols tied to what type of government it is generally change too. You don't call the government in a republic "the crown" just like you don't call a republic a monarchy.
Elias Granqvist, 24 January 2009

First of all, I have to say that Kovari's comment is a part of so-called Doctrine of the Holy Crown (Szent Korona-tan in Hungarian) what is based on Hungarian historical traditions. It is mainly supported by right or right-center political characters. You can read some more details about this issue at wikipedia.
Before adaptation of new arms of Hungary in 1989-90, there was a big and long debate on what arms would be that of Hungary. Current (or historical) was one of them, but it was not supported by all people. This debate shared the public society along the lines of their political or ideological view. Normally, crown is not placed on a repuclican arm, but in this case supporters focused on historical past and surviving the traditions. The Parliament finally has adopted this current version.
There was a proposal of Minister of Justice in 2000, if I remember well, to put a new sentence into our Constitution concerning to the connection between Holy Crown and the people as it is described in Doctrine, but this proposal was failed. Crown is mentioned in our Constitution only where Hungarian CoA is described. Facts and history of Holy Crown can be found at wikipedia.
However, Hungary is not only republic those arms contains a monarchy crown. I have to mention Bulgaria, Georgia, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia. (I know that cronologically Hungary was the first one) And some of these countries has more supporters of monarchy like in Hungary. Maybe Albania can add to this list, but its arms contains a helmet, rather than a real crown.
So, a royal crown placing on a shield is not express only a monarchy, but refers to the historical past, like in case of Hungary or some other countries. I agree with those opinion that some countries (especially in Eastern European region) have mixed their historical symbols with the real (current) geopolitical facts. But an other opinion also can be supported, that a Coat of Arms has more respect if it is older (created earlier).
A great amount of Hungarians consider to the Crown as a part of history, not to a symbol of current sovereignty. A lot of people has fully supported the Holy Crown theory, as well. Everybody can decide which side is accepted. Please do not confuse the personal emotions of people with political ideas of various governments. In everyday life, this question is not so sharp, and debate flashes only for a while in political forums.
Zoltan Horvath, 24 January 2009

I have also heard that the Holy Crown was placed back on the Coat of Arms back in 1990, to represent the fact that Hungary was once again a free and independent, sovereign nation, free of foreign occupation (i.e., the Red Army). Any truth to this, or is this another "popular interpretation"?
Georges G. Kovari, 26 January 2009

The Bent Cross

From "Crown Jewels of Britain and Europe" by Prince Michael of Greece, Peerage Books, London, 1990 (first edition 1983 by Dent & Sons, 144 p), on p. 120 it says:
"In 1848, when the revolutionary tides reached Hungary, the population, under the leadership of the poet Louis Kossuth, rose against the Austrians and the oppressive domination of the Habsburgs.  But the Russians crushed the revolt.  Kossuth ran away with the crown, and buried it under a tree.  A traitor sold the information to the Austrians, who extracted the crown and brought it back to Royal Castle of Buda in great pomp.  In its tribulations the crown had slightly suffered and the cross surmounting it had been twisted.  It was never righted, perhaps in order to symbolize the freedom of Hungary."
Some additional info from: Gert Oswald, Lexikon der Heraldik (Heraldic Lexicon), Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig, 1984, 478 p., lemma "Stephanskrone" on p. 381:  The crown was buried near Orsova from 1848 till 1853.  A book on the crown is listed: J. Deér, Die heilige Krone Ungarns (Hungary's holy crown), Wien (Vienna), 1966.
Jan Mertens, 27 April 2003

According to "The Holy Crown of Hungary" at <hungary.topcities.com>: "We do not know why the cross came to be bent, but a diagram drawn in 1790 shows it already bent."
John Ayer, 27 April 2003

I agree that 1848 date seems rather much to late. I do believe that it is shown with bent cross much, much earlier then 18th centruy either, but I have no data by hand. I am also sure that there are several "legends" of which I have heard in my youth few (e.g. similar story as the 1848 one cited was told to me about St. Stephen running from Tatars, certainly anachronistic).
Željko Heimer, 27 April 2003

The website <www.kfki.hu/~arthp> shows the mediaeval king St. Stanislaus in a 1600s painting using what seems either the earlier, original St. Stephen's Crown ( I don't know what it looked like) or the current crown with the cross seemingly upright.
Also, in <www.katolikus.hu> it is said "The cross on the top came into being later, presumably in the middle of the 16th century, replacing an earlier one, made in the time of Béla III or on the occasion of the coronation of Endre III in 1290, but this is still disputed. It is also uncertain exactly when the cross was damaged, which is now bent into an angle of 12 degrees, it might happen between 1613 and 1793"
Joăo Madureira, 27 April 2003

It appears that there are several conflicting stories on why the cross is set at an angle. Another one (according to which the cross was bent when the crown was damaged sometime in the 18th century) is briefly mentioned above. I think there may even be some stories that the cross wasn't bent as the result of an accident at all, but rather that the cross was set at an angle on purpose. Bottom line, nobody seems to know for sure, although from having seen the crown up-close, it certainly looks as if the cross was bent by accident (there is an indentation in the gold material on which the cross is mounted that is consistent with what one might expect if the crown had been accidentally dropped.)
Thorsten, 28 April 2003