«« home ««

-- resurrection of the holy rulers --
»» state-sponsored cult of relics »»
resurrection of the holy rulers
The fact that the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia was coinciding with the final phase of the canonization process of St. Agnes of Bohemia (initiated in 1982, officially begun in 1988 and finished on 11 November, 1989) foreshadowed the new political importance of this type of religious cult. Two factors gave a special importance to this. One of them was the active role taken up in this field by Pope John Paul II, an emblematic figure in the eyes of the opponents of Socialism, who considered the cult of the saints an especially important tool of the Catholic Church: he canonized more saints during his pontificate (nearly 500), that al his predecessors since the thirteenth century. The other noteworthy aspect is that the saint type which witnessed the most intensive resurrection was the one most closely tied to politics: that of the ruler saints. In 1992, with a host of new saints of the Orthodox Church in Rumania, Stephen the Great, late medieval voivode of Rumania got canonized. Together with the renewed growth of the cult of St. Stephen in Hungary (witnessed already in the 1980s, getting also an unexpected support from the successful rock-musical “Stephen the King”), in 1994, a new canonization initiative unfolded in Hungary to get his Bavarian wife, the blessed Gisela canonized. With allied efforts of the bishops of Veszprém and Passau, a translation of her relics to Veszprém in 1996 and renewed celebrations around her, this process is still unfinished. The Pope canonized in 1997 Hedwig of Anjou, Queen of Poland and daughter of Louis the Great, King of Hungary. In 1999 the sister of Saint Margaret of Hungary, Cunegond (Kynga), Princess of Little Poland was canonized. Besides all this there was a revival of the cult of other saintly princesses, that of the blessed Constancia (also sister of St. Margaret) in Lviv, that of St. Olga in Kiev and St. Euphrosina the Princess of Suzdal.
It is symbolic that the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia was coinciding with the final phase of the canonization process of St. Agnes of Bohemia (who lived in the 13th century). The final procedures were finished on 11 November, 1989. Pope John Paul II pronounced her sanctity in front of 10000 Czech pilgrims in Rome; to the initiative of the government directed by Václav Klaus, in 1990 her image appeared on the new 50 crown Czech banknotes, her cult as a new national patron "Svatá Anežka Česká" allowed the Catholic Church to assume a new public role, and became an object of popular cult – in 1995 even a theater play was presented on her written by Josef Bouček.
In 1997 Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage dedicated to the millennium anniversary of the death of St. Adalbert, holy patron of Bohemia and Poland. In his welcoming address at the Prague airport, President Vaclav Havel said of St. Adalbert, that "he dreamed of the spiritual unity of the continent, of a Europe united not with a sword but through acceptance of the Christian message. After having visited Libice near Hradec Králové, the castle of the Slavnik family, and the monastery of Břevnov which Adalbert founded in Prague, the pope arranged an ecumenical prayer on April 27 in the Prague catherdral, in the presence of the President, the Prime Minister and the representatives of Lutherans, Czech brethren of the Husite tradition, the Czech Husite congregation and the Eastern Orthodox Church, paying also honour to the other two patron saints of Prague, St. Wenceslas and St. Wit.
This statue made by David Cerný in 1999 stirred up serious debates. It was originally designed to be installed in the newly opened hall of the main Post Office at Jindřišská Street, as part of the CZ 99 exhibition. However, the director of the Czech Post Office said that it was too much. After that, the lower end of the Wenceslas Square was chosen as an alternative place. Now it is exposed in the passage of the Lucerna Palace. Despite the small scandal, it is enviable that the Czech public opinion tolerates a joking attitude of an artist in connection with their principal national saint.
Queen Gisela, wife of Saint Stephen, first king of Hungary. Gisela, member of the Bavarian ducal family, lived in Veszprém only for a short time and became the patroness of St. Michael’s Cathedral; later, the bishop of Veszprém received the prerogative to crown the Hungarian queens. This is the mere historical background of Veszprém’s recent decision to identify itself as "the Town of Queens". Since 1992, the local government and museum organized the so-called "Gisela Days" in each year, initially a loose series of entertainments, which turned into a professionally structured festivity over a decade, with a considerable contribution by the Catholic church. It was József Szendi, bishop (later archbishop) of Veszprém who re-organized and promoted Gisela’s ecclesiastical cult in the beginning of the 1990s. In his letter to the Congregazione delle Cause dei Santi (Rome) from 1995 he asked for Gisela’s canonization, claiming that her cult had been continuous both in Hungary and in the diocese of Passau where she had lived after Stephen’s death, as the abbess of the Niedernburg monastery. On 26 October 1995, in agreement with Franz Xaver Eder Bishop of Passau the grave of Gisela, venerated as blessed since 1975 had been opened and her relics were elevated, and a new common petition was sent to Rome for her canonization. At the same time an agreement was concluded that an arm relic would be donated to the Veszprém bishopric. The "homecoming" of the relic occurred on May 4, 1996, at the millenary of the wedding of Stephen and Gisela and the foundation of the Veszprém bishopric, and the millecentenary of the Hungarian Conquest. For receiving Gisela's relic the Holy Right Hand of Saint Stephen was brought to Veszprém from Budapest. At the noccasion of the meeting of the relics of the first Christian ruler-couple of Hungary a holy mass was held with the participation of Bishop Eder of Passau. Archbishop Szendi underlined in his sermon that "Gisela"'s life has messages to the present as well, though paganism does not menace our nation any more from the east but rather from the west. The faithless liberalism is the same danger for our future as the socialist Marxism used to be." Otto of Habsburg also spoke at the festivities, representing the Pan-European Union. The emerging cult of Gisela was also used, subsequently, by the Hungarian government, during its EU candidature, to intensify its relationship with Bavaria (treating the wedding of Stephen and the Bavarian Gisela as a symbolical starting point of Hungarian history in an European context) while Veszprém and Passau became "twin towns". In 2000 the Veszprém Museum organized an exhibition, dedicated to the memory of Gisela and of the Hungarian kings (see the pictures of the opening ceremony which took place in the presence of Ibolya Dávid, minister of justice and István Nemeskürty, chief organizer of the millennial commemorations). The case of Veszprém shows how the efforts of the "local" and the "national" were combined during the Hungarian Millennium.
Until the change of the political system, Veszprém, due to the National TV Festival, represented itself markedly in Hungarian cultural life. With the ending of the festival a perceptible vacuum was created in the city's cultural life. It was in 1991 that the city leaders thought of a series of festivities connected to the personality of Queen Gisela, wife of Saint Stephen. The first Gisela Days were held in 1992, on the 7th of May, the name day of Gisela. The facts about how much Gisela is in reality connected to the city of Veszprém are basically of secondary importance, since the Gisela Days are not actually about her. In relation to the queen's person, there was a rock opera performed here, and even a street, a square, a condominium, and a shopping mall bear her name. The festivities, founded mostly by civic authorities, gave grounds to the creation of a cult of Gisela equal almost to that of proper saints. Within the framework of the festivities, the hand relic of Gisela "came home" from Passau, sister city of Veszprém, and it has been laid to rest in the cathedral of Veszprém. After the arrival of the relic, the bishopric of Veszprém was organized into a higher administrative unit, an archbishopric. The profile of the festivities of 7th May was two-sided from the very beginning: on the one hand it was about the city for the city; on the other, it was meant to draw the country's attention to Veszprém. Since 2001, due to the cult of Gisela as a local saint, Veszprém is the destination of pilgrims.
Turning back to the papal pilgrimage of 1997, John Paul II canonized on 8 June, in Cracow, Hedwig (Jadwiga) of Anjou, Queen of Poland. The ceremony was an impressive event, attended by a crowd of several hundred thousand. The canonization of St. Jadwiga was an event which also pleased Hungarians, since she was daughter of Louis the Great, King of Hungary. The Polish-Hungarian saintly ties had been enhanced even more in two years: In 1999 the sister of Saint Margaret of Hungary, Cunegond (Kynga), Princess of Little Poland was canonized as well. The ceremonies centered this time upon the Clarisse monastery of Nowy Sącz, founded by the pious princess in 1292.
On 20 June, 1992, the Holy Synod of the Rumanian Orthodox Church canonized Stephen the Great, Voivode of Moldavia (1457-1504) and Constantin Brâncoveanu, Voivode of Valachia (1688-1714) who were inscribed in the calendar, received entries in the synaxarion, icons, and appropriate liturgical services. On the same day, the Sunday of the Romanian Saints was also instituted by synodal decision in order to commemorate all saints who had ever lived or have been martyred between the Danube, the Carpathians, and the Black Sea. (cults already initiated at the beginning of the 20th century by King Charles I Hohenzollern and the historian Nicolae Iorga yet not continued until 1990s).
In 2001 Adrian Nastase, Prime Minister of Romania said at a commemoration festivity arranged to another national hero, Michael the Brave the following sentence: "we feed ourselves from our ancestors' past, our history is weeping, Romanians are not only 22 millions but also all the dead..." One of his important diplomatic efforts was to get back the sword of Stephen the Great, kept in Istanbul – and he was successful in these negotiations.
The cult of holy rulers included here the medieval saints from the Nemanja dynasty. The most important national saint is St. Sava, the son of St. Stephan Nemanja, the founder of the medieval Serbian state. The Partizan football club celebrated its 56th birthday in Hilandar Monastery, where St. Sava lived. The event was also commemorated on a certificate issued for the team.
There was also a revival of the cult of another saintly princess (also a sister of St. Margaret of Hungary and St. Kynga), that of the blessed Konstancia in Lviv (Ukraine). A memorial table dedicated to Princess Constancia was inaugurated in the church of St. John the Baptist in Lviv (Ukraine) in May 2003.