Foundation and Stabilisation of the Hungarian State and the Church
(10th-13th centuries)

The Hungarian Holy Crown

Constantinople and Hungary (?)
1074-1077 and mid-12th century
Gold, detailed filigree-work and granulation finish, precious stones (sapphire, almandine, amethist, spinel, corundum, tourmaline), pearls fit pointedly and onto spun gold, cloisonné enamel
Heigth: 17.9 cm (not including the pendants);
Diameter: 19.8-20.9 cm.


Copy of the Hungarian coronation regalia

The Hungarian Holy Crown used to be the most important and most ancient symbol of sovereignty during the monarchy, that is, for almost ten centuries (until 1946), while today it is the symbol of Hungarian nation. According to legendary tradition, Pope Sylvester II sent a crown to young King Vajk of the Árpád Dynasty – baptised István [Stephen] –, who followed his father, Géza, on the throne. The name Stephen was probably selected in order to gain the protection of the holy protomartyr of Passau diocese, who played a crucial role in the conversion of Sovereign Géza and the Magyars (cf. Klaniczay, G. Il grande libro dei Santi. Dizionario enciclopedico. Edizioni San Paolo 1998, 3, pp. 1825-1829). This one is certainly not the papal crown. The Hungarian Holy Crown is a fascinating assemblage of goldsmith’s work, which makes it matchless, not merely morphologically, but also because of its artistic quality. It consists of two different parts which are of different age and different style. The lower part, a gold circle, on which triangular and semicircular elements are set, is a Byzantine goldsmith’s work from the age of Emperor Michael Ducas VII (1071-1078) or possibly from a little earlier. The research and restoration work, started in 1978, has already proved that this crown, called ‘Greek’, is still in its original state apart from the replacement of a few jewels (distinguishable from the step by step gradual shaping) and five pendants. There are eight, almost square cloisonné enamel-works between the large, diversiform gemstones fit into claw settings with subtle exquisiteness. The full-length image of Christ ‘Pantokrator’ [Lord of All] sitting on a bejewelled throne towers between two stylised cypresses in a semicircular arch in the middle of the front of the crown and both initials of his name can be seen in a circular field. In the pictures below the half-length images of Archangels Michael and Gabriel are represented, who, holding spears, vigilantly direct their gaze towards him; then the Saint warriors George and Demetrius and Saint physicians Cosma and Damian succeed them. Most likely, the three historical personages pertaining to the arrival of the crown in Hungary appear on the back side of the crown. All of them are identifiable from the inscriptions. Above, Emperor Michael Ducas who heads the mundane hierarchy as Christ heads the heavenly one. His likeness is placed like a mirror image of Christ. He wears a labarum and a sword symbolising rulership. Emperor Constantin Porphyrogenitus (913-959) and Géza I, King of Hungary (1074-1077), who was called the King of ‘Turks’, that is Hungarians, are also present on the circle. The latter’s rank, being lower than that of the emperors, is shown by the colour of his name inscription, dark blue, while the name inscription of the emperors is purple. Also, his gaze is not facing towards the viewer, as that of Michael Ducas’ and Constantine’s, but to the right, into the direction of the emperor. However, experts still debate whether these enamels were made contemporaneously with the crown, or applied later. This corona graeca was in all likelihood meant for a woman, possibly fashioned for King Géza’s wife, a Byzantine Princess. There is a wide gemstone between every even enamelled picture. The middle one, under the Pantokrator, is an Indian sapphire, triangular cabochon cut, so are the other precious stones originally mounted in the crown. According to another interpretation, reviewed in Éva Kovács’s study in 1978, the making of the crown may be dated back to 1067, to the period of the simultaneous reign of the two Ducas brothers; in this case the person with ‘Kon’ inscription would be his brother Constans, not his son Constantine. The bestowal of the crown can therefore be situated within the framework of a complex political alliance, which is connected with Sovereign Géza’s struggles for the recognition of his right to the throne.
The upper part of the crown, called Latin crown, which is cross-shaped and overarches the Greek crown in an angle of 90 degrees, indicates more modern and less exquisite workmanship, mediaeval implementing. Its denomination is due to the Latin inscriptions surrounding the figures. The four gold plates were fit to the sides of the middle square, which depicts Christ Pantokrator and is obviously part of the Greek crown though the symbols of the sun and the moon are present on it. The polychrome enamelled images of the standing figures of eigth apostles – Peter, Paul, John, James, Bartholomew, Philip, Thomas and Andrew – were set onto the cross-connecting bands. The pictures are lined with pearls and almandine and their sides are decorated with zoomorphic motifs. It is difficult to determine the place and age of the making of this crown, it may have been fashioned somewhere in Hungarian territory in the late 12th century. The uniting of the two crown took place in a rather simple fashion, without any modification of the adjoining parts, using rivets whose points can still be seen on the smooth surface of the gold plate. This assemblage was probably done during the reign of Béla III (1171-1196), perhaps the Latin crown was meant for him. The cross on the top came into being later, presumably in the middle of the 16th century, replacing an earlier one, made in the time of Béla III or on the occasion of the coronation of Endre III in 1290, but this is still disputed. It is also uncertain exactly when the cross was damaged, which is now bent into an angle of 12 degrees, it might happen between 1613 and 1793 (cf. De Angelis, M. A., ”Buda Hungariae Regia”: La battaglia di Buda del 1686 in due quadri della Pinacoteca Vaticana, appunti sul pittore fiammingo Pieter Hofman, in Monumenti, Musei e Gallerie Pontificie Bollettino. 7 (1987) pp. 73-93, particularly p 80). Literary references to the crown are abundant during the centuries, in 1166 Patriarch Michael Anchilaos mentions a crown, which is guarded in Székesfehérvár; in 1198 Pope Innocent III calls the crown ‘honor patriae’ in his letter to the Provost of Székesfehérvár. In 1256 Béla IV uses the phrase ‘Holy Crown’ in an edict for the first time. After it served to crown the Hungarian Kings during the entire Middle Ages, the Holy Crown got into the Treasury of the Hapsburg Dynasty in 1440 and only in 1464 could Matthias Corvinus ransom it so as to be crowned with it in Buda. Since then all Hungarian rulers have been crowned with the Holy Crown, including Maria Theresia and Franz Josef. The coronation ceremony specified that the ruler, with the Holy Crown on his/her head, must gallop on horseback up an artifical hill (in Buda, or in more difficult times, in Pozsony), draw his/her sword, strike towards the four quarters of the globe and vow that s/he would defend Hungary against all enemies from any direction.


The sceptre is a staff of unusual shape, on whose tip there is a large crystal sphere decorated with the engraving of three lions in profile. By its appearance it could be labelled the Fatimid art and presumed that it might have belonged to the treasury of some European ruler, for example, Emperor Henry II, bother-in-law to St Stephen. The crystal sphere is infixed in a filigreed and granulated gold mount. The motif of magical endless knot can be seen in its centre, which was famed as talisman in the Middle Ages. Small gold globes hang on little chains, also to avert any trouble by their soft jingle. The staff of the sceptre is more modestly made of gilded silver, and the filigreed motif of the gold part is repeated on its surface. The making of the sceptre is retraceable back to the reign of Béla III

End of the 12th century
Crystal, gold, silver filigree-work and granulation finish
Length: 37.5 cm.


It originates from a period long after, although its role among the coronation regalia is proved by another orb in St Stephen’s hand on the mantle which the royal couple gave to the Church of the Blessed Virgin in Székesfehérvár (today it is in the Hungarian National Museum). A similar globe can be seen in the hand of Imre I (1196-1204), represented on his own seal. A patriarchal cross stands on its top, that symbol has been associated with the Hungarian kings since the reign of Béla III Nevertheless, this one is only retraceable to the Anjou period because displays the stripes-intersected, quartered escutcheon of the Árpád Dynasty as well as the Anjou lilies. This orb was probably made for Károly Róbert [Charles I] on the occasion of his coronation in 1301, merging the elements of his personal coat of arms with other, distinctly Hungarian and Árpád dynastical ones (patriarchal cross and stripes) in order to legalise his accession to the throne in this visible manner.

Beginning of the 14th century
Gilded silver, enamel
Heigth: 16.2 cm.
Budapest, Hungarian National Museum

King’s head from Kalocsa

First quarter of 13th century
Red lime-stone from Piszke (”red marble”); 
Height: 17 cm
Provenience: Lajos Haynald, Archbishop of Kalocsa donated it to the Hungarian National Museum, from there it was moved to the Museum of Fine Arts, poroperty of the National Gallery of Hungary since 1973
Budapest, Hungarian National Gallery, inv. no: 53.364

The expeditiously made king’s head is one of the most beautiful pieces of sculpture in the age of the Árpáds. It might have belonged to the reliefs of the ‘second’ Cathedral of Kalocsa built with French-style chevet. The majority of the architectural carvings found during the archaeological excavations in the 19th century is preserved in the collection of the Hungarian National Gallery.
There is an open band crown decorated with three Greek crosses on the male head shaped with care even on the back. Its form is similar to the funeral crown found in the tomb of King Béla III The simple and calm forms, the rigid lines of the beard, moustache and hair, the eyes wide open give a monumental and majestic expression to the head. Opinions differ concerning the identity of the person represented. Some presume that it must be the head of St Stephen, others consider that it is the head of a biblical king, and it has recently been supposed that it might be a Christ-head of a Maiestas Domini composition.

Byzantine art
Reliquary of the true cross
End of the 12th century
Gilded silver plate on wooden core with cloissoné enamel decoration;
35 x 25 cm
Esztergom, Cathedral Treasury, inv. no: 64.3.1

The reliquary of the true cross used to preserve the relic in the central ebony patriarchal cross. On the icon there are two angels above, Constantine the Great and St Helene are placed in the middle, and below two scenes can be seen: Christ lead to the crucifixion and the Deposition. The gilded silver filigree-work frame is covered with arabesque squares, with traces of green enamel, and figural decoration. The figures are the following: the Deesis above, then the bishops St Vasul and St Nicholas, and the soldier-saints St Demetrios and St Theodore below. The right upper and lower corners are later supplements.

French glodsmith (?)
The crown found in Margaret Island
Last third of the 13th century
Gilded silver, amethyst, sapphire, turquoise, pearl
Heigth: 6.2 cm, diameter: 17 cm
Site: Budapest, Margaret Island
Budapest, Hungarian National Museum, inv. no: 1847.43.a

The hinges of the crown compacted of eight lilied parts are held together by nails decorated with triple vine-leaf motifs. The lower parts of the lilied elements are decorated with three gemstones (turquoise, sapphire), the central setting is in the middle of a rosette. The parts with lilies are decorated alternately with a pearl surrounded by three precious stones, or a precious stone surrounded by three pearls. The crown was found together with a ring and other objects in the burial place of a member of the Árpád Dynasty in the Dominican convent on Margaret Island in 1838. Margaret, the daughter of King Béla IV (canonised in 1943) was living there from 1252 until her death in 1270. The island was named after the Princess. The person buried there might have been King István V (1270-72) or perhaps his nephew, Béla, Prince of Bosnia, who had been killed there in 1272. The goldsmith’s work is the earliest example of the international style spread from the court of Saint Louis IX, the French king, presumably an imported work, as the style of the goldsmith’s works originating from the court of Béla IV is different with their filigree work decoration.

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High Middle Ages and Renaissance
(1300-16th century)
 The Country Torn to Three Parts
(1526-17th century)
Catholic Revival
(17th-18th centuries)
19th-20th centuries