The extreme right and the Holy Crown

Until recently no one knew who László Gonda was, but in the last two years he has become infamous. He is one of the leaders of the group that in the fall of 2006 camped out in front of the parliament building for almost two months while the Hungarian authorities idly stood by, not knowing what to do. László Gonda is an unlikely revolutionary. He is in his fifties, soft spoken, and polite. He  can sound quite reasonable as long as he isn't talking about the theory of the Holy Crown or other favorite topics of his nationalistic imagination. We don't know much about him except that he spent some time in Germany and returned to Hungary not long ago. As far as I know he has no job but devotes his entire existence to his muddled "revolutionary" activities. His intellectual-looking face can be seen at every demonstration that is touted as a huge gathering against the "bolshevik" government but turns out to be a protest of no more than a few dozen fanatics. Yes, Gonda is a fanatic whose ideas are harder and harder to interpret.

The last time Gonda tried to create a scene was on August 20th. First he headed a group of about twenty people who tried to interrupt the celebrations in front of the parliament building. But the square in front of the parliament is large, and the Rákóczi March is awfully loud, so Gonda's efforts failed to produce noticeable results. After that Gonda and company rushed to Heroes' Square where he complained that the new officers were not being sworn in in the presence of the copy of the Holy Crown that had been used in previous years. The swearing in itself is to the Republic of Hungary but it was during the Orbán government that someone, most likely in the Ministry of Defense, decided that this copy of the crown should be dragged out to the swearing-in ceremony. Viktor Orbán is responsible in large measure for the absolute craziness that reigns in certain circles about the place of the crown in today's Hungary.

Constitutionally, the crown is nothing but a very important museum piece and in fact between 1978, when the crown was returned from Fort Knox to Budapest, and 2000 it was housed in the National Museum. However, Orbán, wanting to whip up national enthusiasm and use it to his own political advantage, moved the crown from the museum to the parliament. Before it was placed in the parliament building, Orbán got the brilliant idea of sending this priceless work of art on a little boat trip between Budapest and Esztergom and back on August 20, 2000. Esztergom was the capital of Hungary during Stephen's time as well as Stephen's birthplace.

Gonda went to Heroes' Square because this year at last the Ministry of Defense in charge of the swearing-in ceremony decided that the crown had no place there. Gonda wanted to place three huge pictures of the crown in front of all the cameras, but his plan was foiled. Afterward he gave an interview to one of the internet papers (Stop) in which he claimed that "the Holy Crown is the symbol of Hungarian Christian statehood." A few sentences later he added that in his opinion "this state was not established a thousand years ago but was founded by [the pagan] Árpád." So Gonda can't decide whether he really wants a country that is part of Christian Europe or he is yearning for a state that was founded by invading "barbarians." Moreover, the Holy Crown of Hungary is not really one thousand years old and therefore doesn't not mark the beginning of Christianity in Hungary.

It was only after 1978 that serious study of the crown could be undertaken, and the experts came to the conclusion that the Holy Crown was assembled into its current form during the reign of Béla III (1172-1196). The lower part of the crown is of Greek origin (corona graeca), while the top was made somewhere in Italy (corona latina). The cross on top was added in the sixteenth century in a rather crude manner, affixing it through a picture of Christ on top of the crown. It was in the seventeenth century that the cross got bent when someone carelessly closed the box in which it was placed. On the lower (Greek) part of the crown there are four pictures: three of them depict members of the royal house of Michael VII of Byzantium (1071-1078), including the emperor himself, and the fourth King Géza I of Hungary (1074-1077). Most likely this corona graeca was a gift to the wife of Géza who was of Greek origin. This lower part of the crown is definitely a Byzantine style of crown made for a woman. The corona latina, that is the top part of the crown, was not a piece that had an independent function. It was designed to be attached to the rim and provide a cupola-shaped top. The inscription on the pictures of the saints and the style of their lettering suggest the date when they were made: most likely before the middle of the eleventh century. Originally they may have decorated a reliquary box or a portable altar used by Stephen himself. Or, of course, it is also possible that it was not originally used in Stephen's court but was acquired later from somewhere else. Here is a picture of the crown.

Szent korona  

The upshot is that the Holy Crown of Hungary is not a symbol of the introduction of Christianity that began sometime in the last twenty or so years of the tenth century and gained full acceptance around the middle of the eleventh. The current Hungarian government is not terribly happy about the crown's presence in the parliament building, and I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually ended up in the restored Royal Castle. The full restoration of the Royal Castle will take place over the next seven years. 


  1. As it happened, I was always, or at any rate often, in the vicinity when somelthing was afoot about the Crown.
    I demonstrated against its return in 1978, I went to see it almost as soon as it was shown in the Museum, and I passed by on an other boat as it was loaded on its launch for the trip to Esztergom.
    My interest in it is more professional then patriotic. (I used to be a jeweller.)
    Now, coming back to our topic, I would be more interested in discussing the Szent Korona Tan. (The Tenet of the Holly Crown)
    This befuddled theory of wooly Hungarists is an idea, based on 16th, 17th century legal manipulations, claiming that all power, ownership and national existence is legitimated and thus given as a gift to the Hungarians by the Crown.
    The currency of this theory is increasing thanks to the increasing number of wooly Hungarists, but received an extra boost from the strange heart doctor Lajos Papp who also embraced it and contributed to its propagation, together with that other strange creature, Eva Maria Barki, the Viennese-Hungarian lawyer, the darling of MIEP.
    Taking the Crown into the Castle may not be the best idea. There is no institution that could receive it. It would need its own institution, which would lead to an enhanced cult that I find nothing if not wooly: the worship of the inanimate object. Only in Hungary, they say.

  2. I do not want to say anything about the ‘loonies’, which attach themselves to items like ‘Holy Crown’ of Hungary, ‘Ley Lines’ ‘UFOs’ etc.
    The ‘Holy Crown’ of Hungary has always troubled me. I knew it was supposed to have been sent by a Pope from Rome, but its styling was too Byzantine, eastern and exotic for that. Western crowns of the period (mid 10th centaury) all seem to be more of a ‘halo form’ with spiky bits (often Fleur de lys in shape), which flowed outward from the wearer’s head. Such form of crowns can be seen on coins of the period. It is also seen in the triple form on the Papal tiara.
    The pictures are cloisonné enamels, a skill, which was almost unknown in the west. I only know of two other examples (Alfred’s Jewel and the Minster Lovell jewel, both are in the Ashmolean in Oxford). One should remember that at this time Byzantium was in many respects light years ahead of the west. The pendant chains are shown in Byzantine icons and mosaics of the period and are worn by both men and women. They can be seen in the mosaic images of Justinian and Theodora.
    The last point is that the original crown sent by Pope Sylvester II would have been of very lightweight construction and of impure gold. Rome and the Papacy has always had a huge appitite for gold and would have been reluctant to give much of it away. It should be remembered that about that time the papacey had all ready given away another crown to King Mieszko of Poland. Such information that I can find shows this to have been of the standard western Halo Form.
    Do you know of any Hungarian coins dating from the period in question? If so, do they show the king’s head and is it crowned?
    @Mr Sandor
    As a jeweller, do you know anything of determaning the origin of a piece of gold? I understand that the origin gold can be identified from the mix of isotopes associated with the metal.
    I think that it is rather nice that a republic should have a ‘Kings Hat’ as one of its emblems!

  3. Odin: “Do you know of any Hungarian coins dating from the period in question? If so, do they show the king’s head and is it crowned?”
    Stephen had his own coins: Stephanus rex on one side and on the other Regia Civitas. His head is not there, at least I can’t see it but there is something that looks like a crown. Sure doesn’t look like the Holy Crown. Take a look:

  4. As they say: money has no smell, so has gold no age.
    The carbon14 test is based on the age of organic materials. Gold articles are made in fire where no organic material could possibly survive to serve as the raw material for the test. There may be some organic stuff stuck to the piece, (In Britain some white and red rose residue, so to speak,) but the only piece of organic matter in the crown is the fabric on top. That is younger than the basic gold rim.
    I have no idea how to determine the age of a piece of gold. Nor would it be any use, if we knew. The crown may have been made centuries before Stephan’s birth and rested in a treasury before pressed into action. There is no sign of any kind that this crown is the very one sent by the Emperor, that one may have been replaced by this one later.
    I also disagree about the art of cloisonne enameling. In the French city of Limoges this art was practiced and at a very stellar level, in the 10-11-12-13th centuries. I have seen an exhibition of these works in the New Your Met Museum and can say that the enamel works of the Crown are nothing unique. Perhaps the application of pearls may be a bit of extravagance.
    Let us agree therefore, that the Crown is a nice old piece of jewellery, an object of historical significance and it should join its peers, the other historical objects like Szechenyi’s zink, or Liszt’s and Beethoven’s pianos, or the harp of Maria Antoinette in the National Museum.
    By the way, it is documented fact that Kossuth, on the eve of escaping from Buda, has tried it on his head in the presence of his wife. I also heard that during the 1919 revolution Bela Kun also tried it and wouldn’t be shocked if it would turn out that Victor Orban, having secured its proximity and privacy, has also had his way with it one dark and stormy night. (Just imagine! The kneeling bust of Mussolini, standing in front of a full size mirror, and the Crown sliding down over his ears, covering his eyes, so he actually is having trouble seeing himself in the mirror. Argh! The Horror!)
    Into the Museum with it at once! That’s where it belongs. The Republic has no use for it and the loonies can easier access and worship it there.

  5. @sandor
    The isotope impurities can show where the gold came from not its the age. I will agree with you it is a nice peice of ‘shmutter’ an my old mate in Hatton Garden would say. The use of pearls is very Byzantine. You have the advantage over me I have never actualy set foot on the east coast of the U.S. so the Limoges enamels are unknown to me. Where to put it and the other stuff. Why not hold a referendum?
    Thanks for the links I will have a look at them later

  6. A referenduuuuuuuuM!?
    But Mr Worthing! What would be the question?
    “Would you agree that the Crown should be regarded as…and be placed into the…?”
    Possibly in an ordinary handbag, the colour is immaterial?
    My goodness! What fun Oscar Wilde would have with this one.

  7. @Mr Sandor
    Thank you for information about Limoges I have often wondered why the major descriptions used by enamellers were all in French. Cloisonné, Champlevé, Basse-taille, Plique-á-jour etc. I went to a ‘silversmith’ classes to learn to work copper. We had to do 4 weeks enamelling. It cost £26 (metal thrown in) for the year, whereas the boiler making classes for model engineers cost £56 per term (bring your own metal).
    As to a referendum why not let those who want the crown put somewhere else phrase the question or questions?
    The real problem is its security. The loony-toons would love to get their ‘mittengrabbers’ on it. Just think of the weird goings-on (crop circles, UFOs, overdosing on laxatives etc) and the fun and games they could have with it! Especially as it isn’t the ‘Real McKoy’, but who would believe that. The problem is that these nurks could do a lot of damage to democracy with it.
    The sheer imagery of Mr Victor Orban with a king’s hat on his head is just too nasty for me just after lunch. It is horrendous.
    Perhaps the best thing to do is send it back to the successor to pope Sylvester 2 with a nice letter thanking him and saying that Hungary is now a republic and does not need a kings hat any more. Or it could be put back in Fort Knox (or the reserves in the Bowery) in a handbag, if you like, and quietly forgotten.
    You are quiet correct the ‘crown’ image on the coin of István is very similar to that on the head of Harold II (Godwinson) and the early Norman Kings. There is one difference István’s crown has the full Latin form with a bent cross on it! It even leans in the same direction as the one on the crown now on display in the Parliament building.

  8. Talking about the Hungarian crown,fail to tell us who was the last King/ Queen in that Hungarian crown:that would have been interesting if they told us!
    But the story sounds like this Hungarian crown is not for the kings/ queens to put on their head;then what was that Hungarian crown for:as beautiful as it looks like: anyone know? For political sake!
    Stephen Szeles

  9. The last Hungarian king crowned with the Holy Crown was Charles IV (IV. Károly). The coronation took place on December 30, 1916. Charles was the father of Otto von Habsburg who is still alive and whose picture can be seen as a child of five on the official coronation picture. You can see the picture here:
    Ottó’s son György lives in Hungary and is the president of the Hungarian Red Cross.

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