In the 9th century nomadic tribes known as Magyars settled in the Carpathian Basin. Seven tribes led by Árpád came from somewhere between the Ural Mountains and the Volga River.
The Magyars were looking for a place where they finally can settle down after many years of wandering. In 896 AD they came across the Verecke pass in the northern Carpathians. They found Slavic, Gothic and Avaric nations here, but they showed little resistance.
The Magyars were great warriors and very good horse riders. They conducted several raids in Western Europe and Western European nations feared them.
In their prayers they begged “please God protect us from the arrows of the Hungarians”. Finally King Otto I. defeated them at the battle of Augsburg in 955.
Between Two Empires
Duke Géza, grandson of Árpád, realized that Hungarians could not go on with their nomadic lifestyle any longer if they wanted to found a strong state.
Hungarians were between two major powers at that time: the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire.
Géza knew that they had to make a choice and ally with one of the two powers in order to survive. He decided to convert his nation into Christianity and requested missionaries from Rome.
Géza were baptised, along with his son Vajk, who took the name István (Stephen) upon his accession to the Hungarian throne in 1000.
Pope Sylvester II. sent him a crown from Rome. This crown is the greatest treasure of Hungary. You can view the Holy Crown in Budapest Parliament.
King Stephen continued his father’s work and managed to consolidate the Hungarian state. We celebrate this on 20th August, St Stephen’s day.
King Stephen didn’t have an easy job. Many tribes remained loyal to their nomad lifestyle and religion so they revolted against Stephen.
Bishop Gellért, an Italian missionary, was killed during these riots. Gellert Hill received its name after him. According to the story the revolting pagans rolled the bishop down the hill in a barrel into the Danube.
King Stephen was canonized on 20th of August in 1083 and became the patron of Hungary. This date is a National Holiday dedicated to St. Stephen, with programs and a festive firework show in the evening.
For the canonization procedure Stephen’s remains were exhumed. According to the story his right hand was found as fresh as the day he was buried.
The hand was detached and since then everybody can view our first king’s mummified right in St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest.