Top: St. Nicholas Church, Orczy coat of arms. Center: St. Nicholas Church interior, statue of St. Vendel. Bottom: St.Anne Chapel exterior and interior
Tarnaörs is a quaint village in Heves County, 109 km from Budapest. By car, it is about an hour and fifteen minutes from the capital city, and is about a half hour from the charming town of Gyöngyös. While the population of Tarnaörs may fluctuate, its populace is generally around 1850. It is essentially an agricultural community where farming and raising livestock provide sustenance. Though it is a small town, it is not lacking the luxuries of the 21st century – it has cable TV and internet access.
Tarnaörs certainly offers a few sites which beckon visitors. Among them is the St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church which has been granted recognition as an historical site. Another is St. Anne’s Chapel, which once belonged to the well-known aristocratic Orczy Family.
Architecturally, the most prominent characteristic of the St. Nicholas Church is baroque. It is worth noting that the murals one finds in the sanctuary are the works of Huszár Ferenc. The painting located in the side chapel is that of Kovács Mihály, completed in 1855. The organ was built in1869 in Kecskemét in the shop of Országh Sándor.
At one time it was just a tiny, medieval stone church, vacant and unused, as noted in the census upon the withdrawal of the Turks in 1696. Over time, the original Gothic structure underwent numerous restorations. In 1746, the church contained only one altar. However, upon extensive reconstruction, a marvelous baroque church emerged, with three altars, as noted in the canonica visitatio in 1766, when it was dedicated to St. Nicholas. During its restoration, the builders not only enhanced the church’s interior but in the process succeeded in preserving the sanctuary of the Gothic church by retaining it as a side altar.
Over time, the church underwent further restoration and reconstruction. Baron Orczy Lőrinc, the large local landowner, was approached on a number of occasions to aid the church. In 1784, he provided building materials. In 1788, he was approached to enlarge the church, with which he also assisted. It is believed that the existing shape of the church was attained in 1789.
In 1810, the church was an affiliated parish of Erk; however, the preservation of St. Nicholas was achieved with further generous help and support of the Orczy family. In 1812, the altar was completely rebuilt, with a large crucifix above it. The side altar was also refurbished to honor St. Nicholas. In addition, a side altar was erected in honor of the Bishop St. Nicholas. During the restoration, the portrait of St. Nicholas was removed from the main altar and displayed over the side altar – the only portion of the church which survived since the Middle Ages. Baron Orczy Lőrinc died in 1789 and was buried in St. Nicholas, as indicated on a marble plaque, inscribed in Latin, displayed on a key pillar in the nave of the church. Resting above the plaque is the coat of arms of the Orczy family.
As we look at St. Anne Chapel, we discover that it was built in the 1740s also by the Orczy family, and was used by the family for funeral services, and as a burial place.
This small chapel is perched on a hill on the border of Tarnaörs. When it was first constructed, it was quite ornate, as noted in the canonica visitatio in 1746. It was reconstructed in 1774-1776; further restorations on the chapel were made 1818. The interior unveiled a small altar resting on a wooden table. Hanging from the ceiling was a lovely chandelier which could hold candlesticks. The turret contained a small bell.
Intriguingly, this small sanctuary is a baroque structure. It has a rectangular shape with room for only one aisle. Today, the interior walls of the chapel contain just one color; the flooring consists of laid stones. On the rooftop rests a four-sided, small tower. Each of the two side walls has an arched window, as does the front entryway, above which lies an oval window.
Sadly, the mural of St. Anne painted by Kovács Mihály in 1855 no longer adorns the sanctuary. The altar table on its front side contains a picture of St. Rozália.
We must note that the chapel no longer serves as the burial site for the Orczy family. Most of the year it is not even open; however, it may be visited on the St. Anne’s Day fair for Mass.
During the mid-1850s, the village suffered tremendously from floods. In 1863, the people endured great famine and could not cultivate their land. Sadly, farmers even fed their livestock straw which normally would have been used to cover the roof. Numerous farmers exchanged their land for food. Sometimes the food received was merely but a loaf of bread. The baronial family attempted to ease the hardship of the village by providing a daily meal for those in need.
In 1889, a harsh windstorm in Tarnaörs severely damaged the roof of the church as well as that of the castle. The silver lining was that the windstorm also ended the pestilence. In gratitude for the end of the pestilence, a figure of Saint Vendel (patron saint of herdsmen and of those who live off the land, whose existence depends on nature) was commissioned by the Somodi family. Erected along the road leading to Jászszentandrás, it was sculpted in 1908 by Bali (Baly) György from the town of Jászberény. In this figure, the saint appears wearing a shepherd’s robe and hat, with a cape draped over his shoulders. He is shown with his hands clasped in prayer around a shepherd’s crook.
There is a memorial site honoring General Vak Bottyán János located roughly 2 km (1.24 miles) west of Tarnaörs, by the Bottyán Well on the Miske border. The well is referred to by the local people as the Csepegös kút, which is an old handcrafted well which still works beautifully. Farmers unexpectedly unearthed some items which led to the belief that this area may well have been General Vak Bottyán János’ camp site. Archaeological excavations and studies verify that the General died at the camp site close to Tarnaörs in 1709. His body was moved from this area to Gyöngyös and was interred in the Franciscan church there.
The General fought in the kuruc War for Independence when Hungary attempted to free itself from the Habsburgs in the early 18th century. He fought under Prince Rákóczi Ferenc who led this war for Hungary’s self-governance and independence from the Habsburgs.
The Vak Bottyán memorial sits honoring the kuruc general on the land which once served as his former camp. The villagers initiated its recognition as a historical commemorative site, which finally took place in 1982. In that year, a memorial column of sculpted oak by Jakkel Mihály of Gyöngyös was dedicated in his honor.
We must note that “vak” in Hungarian means blind; and yes, the general suffered a serious injury causing the loss one eye. Interesting enough, this occurred when Hungary with the Habsburgs were combatting the Ottomans (the Turks).
Perhaps the best-known distinguished personality with roots in Tarnaörs is Baroness Emma Orczy. She was born there in 1865; however, her family left Hungary in1880 and moved to England. In time, the Baroness became a popular author. The genre of her works features historical fiction, mysteries, and adventure romance. The Scarlet Pimpernel, written in 1905, is one of her most noted works. (See the article about her life elsewhere in this issue.)
This small village is just a short excursion from Budapest. It offers tourists a bit of Hungary’s history of which the villagers are dearly proud. I fully agree with them, definitely finding it worth a day!
Judit Vasmatics Paolini is a former member of the Southern Connecticut State University Alumni Association Board of Directors, former lecturer at Tunxis Community College, and a member of the Magyar News Online Editorial Board.