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Magyar Treasures
Magyar Treasures

Top row: Cathedral of St. Elizabeth, Kassa; tomb of Rákóczi Ferenc (both from Wikipedia). Second row:Técső center (from magyarország-szép.hu, used by permission); one panel of Técső's coffered church ceiling (photo: Horváth Zoltán György, used by permission). Third row: Bólyai János (painting by Márkos Ferenc); Royal Francis Joseph University, Kolozsvár (both from Wikipedia). Fourth row: Nándorfehérvár fortifications; confluence of the Danube and Száva Rivers (both from magyarország-szép.hu, used by permission)


The Cathedral of Kassa

Kassa, the ancient city in the northern part of the Carpathian Basin (Felvidék), was annexed after World War I, with a stroke of a pen in Trianon, to the newly created Czechoslovakia, and renamed Kosice 100 years ago.  It was the birthplace and life-long love of the famous writer Márai Sándor who bemoaned the city’s alienation all his life.

In the center of Oldtown, on the central stretch of the main street stands a cathedral, dedicated to St. Elizabeth of Árpádház (also known as St. Elizabeth of Hungary).  In the 13th century, there was a Romanesque style church in its place, which burnt down in 1378.  The city could not escape becoming the object of dynastic disputes, and was besieged in 1491, leaving the future cathedral under reconstruction severely damaged.  Yet, after all calamities, the enlarged version built in the Gothic style, including the triptych of the main altar, was finished in 1520.  In 1556, another fire destroyed much of the city, not sparing the majestic structure.  In later years it was repaired, as necessary. 

The church did not belong always to the Catholics.  Due to the intervention of Bocskai István, the Lutheran majority of the city could use it from 1604 on.  In 1671, the Catholics repossessed it, then the Lutherans did, in 1682.  Ultimately, in 1687 an imperial military group took it from the Lutherans and rededicated it to the Catholics, whose place of worship it has been since.

Restorations following yet another fire that damaged the Cathedral in 1775 resulted in the northern (Zsigmond) tower gaining its final form with the Baroque helmet and sightseeing gallery.  Finally, between 1877 and 1896, the whole Cathedral was rebuilt correcting structural failures, designed in the neo-gothic style by Steindl Imre, architect of the Parliament building in Budapest. The unfinished southern (Mátyás) tower obtained its current look in 1904.

In course of the final stages of reconstruction under Steindl Imre, a crypt was built under the northern nave.  On October 29th, 1906, the ashes of Rákóczi Ferenc II (leader of the 1703-1711 Freedom Fight against the Austrian Habsburgs) were repatriated from Rodosto, Ottoman Empire, where he had died in exile in 1735.  His marble coffin is permanently decorated with an abundance of red-white-green ribbons.  The coffin of his mother, Zrinyi Ilona and of his son, Rákóczi József are also in the crypt, as well as several of his adjutants and fellow exiles. The entrance to the crypt is located on the north side of the church, and the approach is through a tight flight of stairs.  The crypt is open to visitors, even with optional Hungarian guides, as is the tower of the cathedral.

The main entrance to the cathedral is on the west side, between the  two towers.  The gable and the wall above the entrance are richly decorated with sculptures depicting scenes from the Bible and the lives of saints.

The Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Cathedral of Kassa is one of the most characteristic and beautiful ones of Europe. It is a living history book of the city’s past and present, facing a hopeful, long and bright future.

Olga Vállay Szokolay


The history of the Subcarpathian town of Técső goes back to the age of Árpád, who led the Hungarian tribes into the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century.  (His dynasty lasted until 1301.) Técső was first mentioned in documents dating from 1329. Rusyns began to settle there only in the 18th century.  In 1910, fewer than one fifth of its inhabitants (855 out of a total of 4,482) were Rusyns. 

King Károly Róbert (reigned 1308-1342) granted the town special privileges, together with several other cities that had salt mines. Straddling the Tisza River, it was strategically located for the shipping of the salt produced in its mines.

Técső’s church was built in the 13th century. With the Reformation, the population and its church became Calvinist (Presbyterian). A coffered ceiling, typical of Hungarian Protestant churches, was added in 1748 - see the panel in the attached collage. (We will devote more attention to coffered church ceilings in a future issue.)  The church was recently renovated with the financial support of the Hungarian government, and was rededicated in November 2019.

So why are we mentioning Técső now?  Because this city, rich in Hungarian history, was one of many Hungarian communities divided by the Treaty of Trianon.  The larger part, on the right bank of the Tisza,  is in Ukraine now (called Tiachiv in Ukrainian), while the part on the left bank belongs to Romania (called Teceu Mare in Romanian).  The one and only border crossing is at Máramarossziget, 191 km – about 119 miles! – away.


The Royal Hungarian Franz Joseph University of Kolozsvár

Years ago at a lecture by one of my father’s friends, Professor Lukács János, I remember him saying that the greatest mistake of the Hungarian people was not being able to populate sufficiently the Carpathian Basin.  If we had had a higher birth rate over the centuries, the justifications used at the Treaty of Trianon to carve up the country would not have been valid.

In addition to the personal tragedies for those Hungarians who instantly found themselves in a different country (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia) in June of 1920, with different laws and official languages, there were also spiritual tragedies, among them loss of the Royal Hungarian Franz Joseph University of Kolozsvár, Transylvania.

Originally, in 1581 the Jesuit Academy of Kolozsvár was established by Báthory István, Prince of Transylvania and King of Poland.  In 1603, during the three-month reign of the Unitarian Székely Mózes as Prince of Transylvania, the Jesuits were expelled, and the university closed in 1606.  It was reestablished in 1698, but was later transformed into the Universitas Claudiopolitana in 1753.  Due to political intrigues, the Jesuits were again expelled in 1773 when the Pope dissolved their Order.  Then, by 1786, this university became a secular combination secondary school and college.  A century later a new university was formed out of the remnants of these 2 institutions.

In 1870, there was only one modern university in the Hungarian part of the recently formed Austro-Hungarian Empire (in Budapest), compared to 5 in the other regions.  As a result of this, Eötvös József, the Minister of Religion and Education in Hungary proposed the creation of a second university in Kolozsvár.  There was a slight delay due to the death of Eötvös József in early 1871 after a brief illness.  But his successor, Pauler Tivadar, sought and won the direct approval of Emperor Franz Joseph for the establishment of the new Royal Hungarian University, which officially began its operation on November 11th, 1872 with 258 students and 39 professors in the fields of Legal and Political Studies, Medicine, Philosophy and Sciences.

The early years were a little difficult due to a lack of funding, but this all changed on January 4th, 1881 when the name was changed by permission of the Emperor to the Royal Hungarian Franz Joseph University.  By 1885, the student body grew to 500, then passed 1,000 in 1898, eventually reaching 2,500.  The university also earned a reputation for its excellence in mathematics and became known as the “Göttingen of the Monarchy”, after the very prestigious Georg August University of Göttingen in Germany.

On Christmas Eve of 1918, after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Romanian forces took control of the city of Kolozsvár.  The university continued on through the following semester, but after a little less than 47 years, it closed its doors as a Hungarian language institution by Romanian mandate.  In the mid-fall of that year it reopened as a Romanian university.  Only those who could speak Romanian well and had been residents of Kolozsvár prior to 1914 could stay.  This disqualified many, so a large number of students and faculty left for Budapest to reestablish the university there.  Those left behind also followed in 1920 after the Treaty of Trianon officially ceded Transylvania to Romania.

In the fall of 1922, the faculty relocated to city of Szeged after numerous requests by the mayor of the city.  During WWII, the university was reestablished in Kolozsvár.  After the war, it became the Bolyai University, which lasted for 14 years.  Today, the Babeş-Bolyai University with over 40,000 students stands in its place.  It is named after Romanian bacteriologist, Viktor Babeş, and Hungarian mathematicians, Bolyai Farkas and his son János (a mathematical genius who in the 19th century had developed absolute geometry).  By all estimates it is a very good university, but just not the same.  Imagine today if the entire faculty and students of Princeton or Yale would have to pack up and start all over again in a city hundreds of miles away.

Charles Bálintitt Jr.


Located at the confluence of the Danube and the Száva Rivers, Nándorfehérvár came under Hungarian rule in the 11th and 12th centuries (although for some 20 years in the 15th century it fell under Serbian rule).  Back in Hungarian hands, the Turks first besieged it in 1440, but were driven back.

After taking Constantinople in 1453, the Turks returned in 1456, and under Mohammed II, pushed into Europe with an immense army, with the aim of destroying Christianity and the West.  On their march up the Balkans, Nándorferhérvár was their obvious next target.  It controlled the southern end of the Danube in Hungary and with it, the entrance into the Carpathian Basin.  Unless the Turks could be stopped at this point, nothing would prevent them from overflowing into the rest of Europe and wiping out Christianity there.  

Hungary had not yet recovered from the Mongolian invasion of 1241-42, which had literally decimated the population and laid the country waste. Politically, everyone was pulling in a different direction, and there was no hope that the country could detain the Turks alone.  Pope Callistus III had called for a crusade to stop the Moslem onslaught, and the Franciscan friar John Capistrano had preached it for several months.  In Hungary itself, 40,000 men pledged themselves to join.  But they were scattered thoughout the country, and the Turks advanced at such a fast pace, that they arrived a whole month before they were expected. Desperate appeals by Hunyadi János (the military genius of the time) and John  Capistrano to potentates, prelates and barons of Europe brought only promises. 

On June 29th, 1456, the Pope issued a ”bull”, a papal document calling for the ringing of church bells and prayers (the Angelus) at noon, in every church, in every country, to plead for victory over the Turks.  It became known as ”the Turk bell”. 

Some sources place the number of well-armed Turkish troops at 150,000,  with many cannons and a fleet of ships.  They were opposed by the ragtag Hungarian ”army”, estimated to have numbered around 18,000, consisting of peasants, priests, students, monks and tradesmen, armed with bows and arrows, scythes, pitchforks and slingshots. It was a real David-and-Goliath scenario. 

The attack began on July 15th, 1456. The Hungarians released into the  current boats loaded with sand, which crashed into the Turkish ships and caused much confusion among the enemy.  At the same time, some 40 well-armed boats attacked the Turkish fleet form the rear, incapacitating the fleet, and opening up the river crossings.

Capistrano joined Hunyadi in defending the city, which the Turks bombarded for a week; at the end of which Hunyadi wrote:  ”Nándorfehérvár no longer deserves the name of stronghold.  It lies open on all sides.” 

The decisive battle occurred on July 22nd.   The Turks broke through the walls into the city. Desperate hand-to-hand fighting ensued.  The city semed to be lost, when the Hungarians resorted a measure which had once before saved the city:  large quantitites of brushwood, saturated with powder, pitch, sulphur and other flammables were set on fire and hurled down upon the onrushing Turks.  This was the turning point of the battle.

The Turks fled, leaving many dead and fatally wounded behind.  Inside of three weeks, Mohammed had lost 40,000 of his best soldiers.  He marched off in the middle of the night, for fear of being pursued. Hungary – and western Europe! – had been saved, without the rest of Europe contributing anything to their own safety! Seventy years would pass before the Turks would renew their deadly onslaught on Hungary and western civilization. 

Hunyadi died of the pestilence which broke out, caused by the thousands of unburied corpses.  He died on August 11th.  Capistrano held out until October, and died on the 23rd.   (It was exactly 500 years to the day later that another freedom fight, that of 1956, broke out!) 

Bells have been rung at noon ever since, in churches around the world.

And the historic city of Nándorfehérvár, bastion of freedom, was also cut off Hungary by the dictated Treaty of Trianon.  It has been called Belgrade since then.







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