The Holy Right Hand of St. Stephen, King of Hungary

The Holy Right Hand is housed in the St. Stephen Basilica in Budapest and once a year, on August 20, it is carried in the Holy Right Hand ( Szent Jobb) procession.

The Basilica’s website tells a straightforward story that accepts without qualification that the mummified right hand once belonged to King Stephen, the first Hungarian king (1000-1038).

Here is their story in a nutshell. Stephen was buried in Székesfehérvár on August 15, 1038, in a sarcophagus that is  more or less intact although empty. The body was later reburied in the lower underground catacomb out of fear of possible disturbances of the grave. It was at that time that the hand was removed from the rest of the body because of its alleged miraculous properties. It was taken to the treasury of the basilica from where the man who was in charge of guarding the treasury stole it and hid it on his estate in the County of Bihar/Bihor, today Romania.

St stpehen's sarcophagus

During the reign of King László I the Right Hand was discovered, but the king forgave the thief and in fact erected a monastery on the spot. The village today is called Szentjobb/Siniob. It was here that pilgrims came to pray in front of the king’s Right Hand, which was allegedly capable of performing miracles.

It was only in the fifteenth century that the Right Hand was moved  from Szentjobb/Siniob back to Székesfehérvár. During the Turkish occupation, however, around 1590, it ended up in Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and was held by Dominican friars. The official church story doesn’t divulge any details of its mysterious reappearance in Ragusa. As for the rest of the Hand’s history, I outlined it yesterday–that is, the purchase of the Right Hand by Queen Maria Theresa and her gift of it to her Hungarian subjects.

Today I would like tell the story that the Catholic Church ignored.

There are two chronicles that mention the burial and subsequent reburial of the body. Both report that the Right Hand was removed to the County of Bihor where it was found by King László on May 30, 1084. According to the chronicler Hartvik, bishop of Győr (1116), at that time the Hand had St. Stephen’s ring on it which definitely identified it as belonging to the saintly king.  The alleged Right Hand today has no ring on it or any sign that there ever was a ring it that was later removed.

szent jobbThere is another problem. All contemporary pictures show Stephen buried lying on his back, his hands alongside his body with open fists. Today’s Right Hand, as you can see on the picture, is tight-fisted. But that is not all. The official coat-of-arms of the town of Szentjobb/Siniob shows not just the hand but the whole arm bent at the elbow. Since the town came into being as a result of the presence of the Holy Right Hand, one must assume that the coat-of-arms is an accurate depiction of the actual state of the relic at the time.

And with that missing arm we come to Stephen’s body parts wandering around in central Europe and the Balkans. It is assumed that the upper arm was removed in 1370 when Louis the Great (Nagy Lajos) also became the King of Poland. It was customary to send important relics as symbols of steadfast friendship and devotion to men, country, or cause. The Franciscans of the city of Lviv (Lvov, Lemberg) hold that at one time they were the ones who were entrusted with guarding the holy relic of St. Stephen’s upper arm for which King Jan Kazimierz II ordered a jeweled case.

The lower arm was sent by King Sigismund (Zsigmond)  to Albert V at the time of his daughter’s marriage to the Prince (1411), sealing a personal union between Hungary and the Holy Roman Empire. For a while it was held in the St. Stephen Basilica in Vienna, named after St. Stephen the Martyr, and later was moved to the Schatzkammer of the Hofburg. But there is a bit of a problem with this lower arm. When the bone was sent to Hungary for the millennial celebrations in 2000 and was put on display, it was discovered that it is not part of an arm. Rather, it is the fibula of a right leg.

In addition, there are several small pieces of Stephen’s skull cap (calvarium) that are held in various places, including Székesfehérvár. No one has ever tried to find out whether these pieces of Stephen’s skeleton belong to the same man or not. Since the 1950s the Right Hand was examined three times but not scientifically. The first time the Right Hand seemed to have developed mildew which needed to be removed. The physician who attended to it added some conserving material to the rest of the hand and that was all.  In 1988 another physician examined it, but the only thing he came up with was that there was no sign of metal ever touching the hand because otherwise there should have been some observable discoloration. He also noticed that it was a relatively small hand. The third time it was Miklós Réthelyi, professor of anatomy and later minister in the second Orbán government, who took a look at it, but he came up with nothing new. A DNA examination would only make sense if we could find a descendant of Stephen, but even if that were possible I doubt that either the Hungarian Catholic Church or the current Hungarian government would be too keen on such a scientific investigation.

As for the  multiplication of St. Stephen relics. As late as 2004, a piece of Stephen’s upper arm that ended up in Poland was given by Franciszek Cardinal Macharski, Archbishop of Cracow, to the Hungarian chapel of the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Cracow. In 2009 Balázs Bábel, Archbishop of Kalocsa, gave a golden reliquary to Robert Bezák, Archbishop of Nagyszombat/Trnava, in which there is a very small bone of the Right Hand.  In the same year a small piece of St. Stephen’s skull was sent to a church in the Subcarpathian part of Ukraine.  In 2006, Cardinal Péter Erdő, the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church, gave a piece from St. Stephen’s rib to Alojz Tkáč.

What can we say state with certainty about the Holy Right Hand? “It is sure that it is the hand of a man,” to quote the title of a piece in


In this summary I relied on Piroska Rácz’s article in Rubicon (2013/6) in addition to “The history of the Holy Right Hand” on the website of the St. Stephen Basilica in Budapest and on “Szent Jobb” in the Hungarian version of wikipedia.



  1. For shame, Prof Balogh. Next you’ll be counting the churches whose altars are sanctified by housing the multitudinous foreskins of Jesus.

  2. tonight there is a television broadcast of an updated and, supposedly, politically astute, production of István a Király… I’d be interested in hearing if you know anything about it or can find out more and share it with us.

  3. Regarding relics, maybe Hungarians are ripe for something like this:
    Creates image of Jesus on your daily bread!
    The Host on toast!
    Butter up to the Lord every morning!
    #1 Christmas Novelty Gift on the planet!

  4. Now someone has to do something similar with the bone of Saint what’shisname …

  5. The relic is disgusting, as are Ader, Orban and other Fideszniks, who play with it.

    A “pagan abomination”, venerated officially in the pseudo-Christian state religion of the Orban mafia.

  6. OT, but at least related to the 20th:

    We had the annual Virágkarnevál here yesterday – but no fireworks!

    In all the years I’ve been here, there has always been a really good firework display in the evening of the 20th, but this year nothing at all, and, seemingly, no explanation.

    There was a slight change in the weather in the evening, with a bit of wind picking up, but it died down later and there was certainly nothing to suggest any sort of storm was coming.

    If anyone can enlighten me about this, it would be appreciated.

  7. What part of Pal Rubberstamp Schmitt would be the next relic? Surely not his brain, since that is missing for a while! We should try to place future bets on bodyparts of the current ruling marty members

  8. @Paul:

    There must have been a storm warning and after that trouble in Budapest (was it last year ?) maybe someone was more cautious.
    We just heard from relatives that everywhere, especially near the Balaton, some festivities were cancelled (we’re in Germany right now).

  9. wolfi :@Paul:
    There must have been a storm warning and after that trouble in Budapest (was it last year ?) maybe someone was more cautious.We just heard from relatives that everywhere, especially near the Balaton, some festivities were cancelled (we’re in Germany right now).

    was not last year, it was under the “old guards”

  10. @Thomas

    “…not last year, it was under the “old guards”…”

    Yes, God’s anger at the Commie rats knows no bounds…that’s why we should thank our saviour, King Viktor, for saving us and putting us back into God’s grace…as the Chosen People!!”

  11. Cheers Wolfi, I suppose that must be the reason (I was hoping Kósa had run out of cash!). Niki, said on Facebook, that the weather around Balaton was windy, wet and cold, but here it was a hot, sunny day, with just a bit of breeze in the early evening.

    Good job we didn’t keep the kids up for the fireworks!

  12. Meanwhile on Planet Hungary …

    Everybody was a winner on the 2nd Altair Boy Olympics on the Uplands. Devout servants of the Lord competed in various sports, like soccer and chess. Even Norbert Kiss, undersecretary of sport and youth relations in the Orban government visited the event.

    Procession and a holy mass concluded the fun.

    NAMBLA inquired about setting up a kiosk next year.

  13. @Mutt:

    You’re really sure about NAMBLA ? – of course that’s a black joke …

    I remember, there was a big stink years ago when it was found out that a US Science Fiction author was a member.

  14. An interesting tidbit about St Stephen is that he is the first person in the world to have been canonised by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Communion since the great schism of 1054 (the Roman Catholic Church canonised him in 1083, an act that was eventually recognised by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople in 2000).

  15. Thomas :
    Addition to the cultural revolution form the Guardian:

    Thanks for the link, Thomas – a powerful, and depressing, piece, which deserves a much greater audience, but which will. unfortunately, mostly be ignored.

    Interesting that Orbán is using exactly the same tactics that the Soviets used between 45 and 48 to take over or replace institutions (boy scouts, YMCA, church associations, etc) that they didn’t like. He learnt well when he was a young commie.

  16. karmester :
    tonight there is a television broadcast of an updated and, supposedly, politically astute, production of István a Király… I’d be interested in hearing if you know anything about it or can find out more and share it with us.

    It wasn’t an overwhelming success. Many thought it would be a divisive performance and that it would divide the audience along their political views – i.e. that right-wingers would hate it and left-wingers would embrace it. This did not happen so – the critic of, a left-leaning news portal, did not like it and Index was not particularly impressed either. Meanwhile, the right-wing Magyar Nemzet published a neutral, almost favourable critique.

  17. Regarding the production: you should’t try to direct – and play – a piece with heavy and demanding singing skills with people can not sing, at least not in this genre.

    Actually I’ve been there in ’83 at the premier (well, even before, but never mind) and I have first hand experience of the original too. It was really something at the time, in spite of the obvious stylistic shortcomings and all that.

    In spite of this I have no problem with the interpretation of Alföldi, but I have definitely problem with the casting. In this piece the music is just as important part of the whole as the text/lyrics, so, in no circumstances allowed to use actors – however good they used to be on their own field – instead of talented and powerful musical performers, or singers – even rockers, mind you – as in ’83.

    Honestly, listening the familiar songs way out of tune was rather painful than anything else, unfortunately repeatedly took my attention away from the play, and forced me to learn the name of that few (3?) people, who wasn’t that bad in her/his role as a singer.

    I’ve read a few comments, which tried to explain, that it was a “feature, not a bug”, meaning, that the concept was that the song and music not that important, but the message…
    Well, If someone would even thinking along this line, they should perform in some small studio theatre to a limited audience, instead of the Dome-square open air theatre of Szeged.

    Still, I give the credit to Alföldi for the brilliant artistic concept, a pity, that his actors weren’t chosen to the role, but for their overall quality, which in this case couldn’t be more far apart.

  18. The production of Istvan a Kiraly can be watched entirely here:
    I was disappointed as I do like Alfoldi’s other directions. I guess directing musicals/operas are not for everyone. I hated the singing and the almost high school performance like inserts with the crowd. There was nothing really “revolutionary” in this production (not that it needed to be), as most of it’s style was already done before on another projects. Alfoldi as a great Hungarin director will not be remembered from this project.

  19. I’ve seen some excellent directing from Alföldi – his take on Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman was especially memorable – but I’m inclined to agree with Some1.

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