The Holy Crown of Hungary

January 6th 1978. I was only nine, and 34 years passed by since then but I still can remember that day, watching the newscast on our black and white tv set. It was the day when the Holy Crown of Hungary finally came home to its country. For some 30 years, since the end of WW2 it was stored in the vault of Fort Knox in the US of A. In the seventies the cold war started to melt, and after years of negotiations President Jimmy Carter agreed to return it back to the people of Hungary (not to the government).

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Legends say that the crown was given to St. Stephen, first king of Hungary by Pope Sylvester II in 1000 AD but actually very little known about the origins and early life of it. Most researches agree that it was made by joining two older parts around the 12th century. The lower part is known as the Greek Crown because originally it was a Bizantine queen's crown, according to scientists, and was sent to a Hungarian queen consort, the wife of a reigning king, perhaps of King Géza I. It also has ten enamel pictures with greek insciptions on them. The front and biggest picture is of the Christ Pantocrator.

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The upper part is called Latin Crown because it also have nine picture but with Latin inscriptions on them. Most researchers say it was made in the first half of the 11th century, originally as an ornament for an altar or a cabinet, or perhaps for a cover of a copy of the Bible. Anyway, they say it was flat, and many believe it belonged to King St. Stephen. It must have included all twelve apostles but now only eight of them are visible – one was cut off from each hand of it when the joining was done. It was a very badly executed job which to me suggests hurry: they might have very limited time, maybe hours only, to attach the Latin Crown to the Greek Crown and make it a proper closed type king's crown.

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The 9th picture on the top is a Christ Pantocrator again. It has a cross breaking through the image, and, again, the job was done very poorly. Current cross is more likely a 16th century addition, and it was meant to stand straight. However, it is skewed now, because in the 17 century the top of the iron chest that held the crown was closed before the crown was properly placed in it. The cross has since been left in this position and was always pictured this way. Some suggest that this cross is just a replacement of an original double cross that contained three pieces of the True Cross of Jesus Christ.

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The Holy Crown of Hungary is much more than just an invaluable historical item or a piece of jewellery. It was, until the end of WW2, a legal entity that served as a legal embodyment of governance. The Crown didn't simply represent the rule of the king but it actually ruled. No Hungarian king was regarded truly legitimate without having coronated with it. On the other hand, from 1921 to 1946 Hungary officially was a kingdom without a king, and a regent ruled on behalf of the crown. A bit wierd, isn't it? To be honest, I myself don't fully understand the idea.

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Together with the Holy Crown there are some other insignia a Hungarian king must have. They are: the sceptre, which is a symbol of right and order, was made in the 9th or 10th century, and might came from St. Stephen's treasury.

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The orb or globus cruciger; origin unknown, there's a 14th century coat of arms on it, but that can be a later addition so the orb itself can be much older.

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The coronation sword, it was made in the 16th century in Venezia, Italy, so it's a late addition to the collection.

And the coronation robe or mantle; Queen Gizella, the wife of St Stephen gave it to the church of Székesfehérvár (remember: this was the coronation church at the time) as a gift in 1031, and originally it was a liturgical robe.

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The coronation robe is a 1000 years old piece if garment, and as you can imagine it is very fragile. It is stored in a special room in the National Museum. When US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance gave the regalia back to Hungary they were all placed (after careful examination and some restoration) in the National Museum but on January 1st 2000 the royal inventory, less the robe, was moved to the Parliament where they are on display today.