The preserved tower of Dömötör Church in Szeged
According to the Érdy-kodex – a most significant and extensive collection of sermons and legends compiled by a Carthusian monk in the vernacular in 1526-27 – Dömötör was a Roman officer in the 4th century born in the Szerémség, in the south of what later became Hungary. (Like St. Martin of Tours who was born in Pannonia, he is therefore considered to be a Hungarian saint.) Since Dömötör was a Christian, he refused to sacrifice to idols, and was martyred on October 26th.
Traditionally, people believed that if a cold wind blew on October 26th, Dömötör’s day, the winter would be cold. (Hideg szél – hideg tél.)
Dömötör was the patron of shepherds and the country people attributed to him miraculous powers, especially the power of protection. The day of Dömötör was sometimes called Shepherds’ New Year, because that was the day the contract between shepherd and master was either renewed or terminated. It was observed with special ceremony in the city of Szeged, where the main church bore the name of Dömötör. (Sadly, it was demolished in the early 20th century, and only one tower of it - Dömötör torony - is left.)
On the patronal feast, the sheep were driven in from pasture, and the priest, fully vested, received the shepherds and their families in front of the church. After the sermon, he accepted the lambs brought as an offering. Then they prepared lamb stew in the church yard, while their wives served up rétes (strudel).
To complete the festivities, there was dancing to the music of the duda or bagpipes. (O yes, Hungarians have bagpipes too! As a matter of fact, the bagpipe tradition has just become a part of the Hungarian Spiritual Cultural Heritage register.) Thus the saying ”Dömötör juhászt táncoltat” (Demetrius makes shepherds dance) could be taken literally, although it has also been interpreted to mean that by that time it’s too cold to spend any time outdoors.
In some places, the celebrations would go on for a whole week. Which explains why a drunkard was often described as someone for whom every day is Dömötör’s day!
viola vonfi is our correspondent from Stamford, CT.