Humanizing Hungarians

I knew little, if anything, about Hungary before I moved here. Gradually, as I met more and more people, my list of places to visit grew longer. It’s still growing. PM was the first to mention the Benedictine Monastery at Pannonhalma to me but it took a while to make my way to  the town in western Hungary, in Győr-Moson-Sopron county, about 20 km from Győr, home of the famous painting of Our Lady that allegedly cried tears of blood.

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History tells us that the first Benedictine monks (who had arrived from Italy and Germany) settled here in 996. They have a series of firsts to their bow: the first to convert the Hungarians to Christianity, the first to found a school, and in 1055, the first to write a document in Hungarian. It’s been in continuous use for more than 1000 years – no mean feat given today’s disposable society.

When the monks arrived, the locals were Bavarian and Slav farmers, who had settled here in the wake of Charlemagne’s armies. The monks apparently came to help Prince Geza and his son Stephen I, the first king of Hungary, in their efforts to humanize the Hungarians, who were terrorising the settled peoples of Europe and sacking the towns and monasteries of northern Italy, Bavaria, and Franconia. I read this on the Unesco site and stopped to wonder at the translation. Humanising Hungarians seems such an odd term to use.

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Pannonhalma is also the smallest, but oldest wine-making region in the country – the monks did more than teach and convert. They, too, had their hobbies. Today, they’re cashing in on the tourist dollar and the gift shops are full of  lavender, chocolate liqueurs, soaps and creams, natural remedies, herbal teas, wine and liqueurs. If you’re interested in taking a virtual tour, Petern66 has an excellent blog post that’s worth a read.

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We made it in time for mass. And while part of me had been really looking forward to this, I came away disappointed. Is it right to be disappointed in a mass? The church was beautiful – the singing exquisite – but the reverence was missing. I found myself comparing it to mass at the Abbey of Timadeuc, in France, and found it sorely lacking. It seemed to me that the celebrants were more interested in who was in the congregation than in offering up the mass.

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Tourism seemed to have usurped the religious rite, the distraction it offers proving too strong. Yes, there were screaming babies, and kids running around, and cameras going off – enough to distract Job himself – but still!
Not for the first time, I wondered at the commercialisation of the church and the pros and cons of places of worship becoming places of attraction. I strongly object to paying to enter a church as a tourist when all I simply want to do is light a candle and say a prayer and yet can see the need for entrance fees to maintain the premises.

In fairness, unless you’re taking a tour, you can wander the grounds freely – which is nice. And nice and all as the grounds are, that lack of reverence left me feeling a little empty. It wasn’t quite the spiritual experience I’d hoped for.

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5 Responses

  1. Thank you for raising this, I was not expecting that message from the article, I have seen and have been entertained by such places had not appreciated what was actually taking place………..in order to finance themselves such important institutions seem to have evolved into something that keeps accountants and tourists happy but no longer fulfills what I think we would consider to be their core function………..is this what we want? Surely the spiritual function has to be primary and if the only way such institutions can survive is by competing for trade with shopping centres and funfairs to the detriment of their spiritual message, we should be aware and not try to pretend that they still retain their original meaning.

  2. This is where the debate becomes interesting…………which user of the ‘institute’ is more important……..the tourist or the person seeking spiritual guidence and assistance …………..it doesn’t take many steps to move from there to starting to think that all this is about is ensuring that the institute survives for those who work in it rather than the users………….then again I’m left thinking wasn’t it ever thus……….

    1. I can’t help thinking that if the original use was still the main intent (prayer) then tourists and donor would be attracted and give money.

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