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Apáczai Csere János and Házsongárd Cemetery
Apáczai Csere János and Házsongárd Cemetery

Apáczai Csere János;his and his wife's monument in Házsongárd;monument of Kós Károly and his family.Center:Crypt of poet Dsida Jenő; grave marker of poet Reményik Sándor; an old-fashioned hearse. Bottom:one of the main paths in Házsongárd;view

Born into a free Székely peasant family, Apáczai Csere János was granted scholarships by the Reformed Church, and studied at various Dutch universities.  He became the first Doctor of Theology at the newly established university of Harderwijk. He also had the opportunity to travel to France, Belgium and England.  There he absorbed the philosophy of the Frenchman Descartes, which placed rationalism above everything else, and he believed that progress was made when reason was properly applied.  He was also greatly influenced by the Puritan views of the English with their scientific reasoning, which he incorporated in his encyclopedia.

While abroad, he noted that his contemporaries could fluently discuss in their vernacular the topics of the times, whereas he and his fellow Hungarians wrote that they could have expressed themselves so much easier in Latin.  Apáczai himself invented Hungarian words and expressions to cover modern concepts already familiar in other languages.

In 1651, he married a well-to-do Dutch burgher’s daughter by the name of Aletta van der Maet from Utrecht. 

Soon thereafter, he began to write his Hungarian Encyclopedia, in the vernacular.  As he wrote in its introduction, “It is the orderly presentation and publication in the Hungarian language of all that has been invented so far, of true and useful wisdom, by Apáczai Csere János at Utrecht, 1653-1655.”  It deals mostly with natural science, philosophy, and mathematics, as well as inventions of all kinds.  

At the invitation of Reformed Bishop Csulai György, Csere returned to Transylvania with his wife.  He taught poetry, logic, diction, Hebrew, Greek and the Latin classics first at Gyulafehérvár (and later at Kolozsvár), applying the Protestant educational principles he had absorbed abroad.  He also promoted the presbyterian form of church organization on the English model.   

In 1654, he published his “Magyar logikácska” (Little Hungarian Logic) for youth.  But as his wide literary interests took form, so did opposition by the ruling classes.  He had to defend, in a public debate before Prince Rákóczy György  II,  his principles for the spiritual development of his country.  Consequently, Prince Rákóczi deprived him of his teaching position.  Only through the intercession of Lorántffy Zsuzsanna, mother of the Prince, was he transferred to the Reformed College of Kolozsvár which he intended to make into a well-respected academy, imparting “useful and necessary knowledge” by intellectually prepared professors.  But he died of tuberculosis before it could begin to function. 

He was buried in Házsongárd Cemetery, Kolozsvár, soon followed by his wife Aletta and their son.  (The poem by Áprily Lajos elsewhere in this issue refers to her.)

One can only speculate what more Apáczai Csere János could have accomplished had he lived longer! 

Many other illustrious personalities of the Reformation were also buried in Házsongárd, dubbed the “Hungarian Pantheon” on that account.  Reformed and Unitarian Bishops, numerous famous poets (including Reményik and Dsida), political figures, artists, singers, sculptors and outstanding personages in every profession and field of endeavor found their final resting place there. 

Unfortunately, following the Romanian takeover after the Treaty of Trianon (1920), many of these tombs have been expropriated, the names chiseled away and replaced by Romanian ones.  This process is still ongoing today. 

Erika Papp Faber is Editor of Magyar News Online.  She is the author and translator of “A Sampler of Hungarian Poetry – Izelítő a magyar költészetből” and of “Our Mother’s Tears - Ten Weeping Madonnas in historic Hungary” and its Hungarian version, “Égi Édesanyánk könnyei – tizenkét könnyező Mária-kép a Kárpát-medencében” (the discrepancy is due to more information having surfaced between the English and the Hungarian editions).  Both are available at Magyar News Online.



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