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August 23 – The Day the Holy Crown of St. Stephen Was Buried

Zsófia Nagy-Vargha 2020.08.23.

On August 23, 1849, during the 1848-49 Revolution and War of Independence, former Prime Minister Bertalan Szemere buried the Holy Crown of Hungary in such secrecy that the Austrians did not find it until four years later.

(The article was originally published by our sister site, Ungarn Heute. Translation by Fanni Kaszás.)

The Hungarian crown and the coronation jewels had been kept by the Crown Guard at Buda Castle since 1790, with only short interruptions when the crown was held somewhere else. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1848/1849, the Holy Crown left the capital two times: the first time to be kept temporarily in Debrecen before being brought back to Pest. However, at the beginning of July, when enemy troops approached Pest once again, Prime Minister Bertalan Szemere kept the jewelry for a while in his own accommodation. Then, another route of escape was planned for the jewels.

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August 20th, the biggest national holiday of the country, is founding day of the Christian Hungarian state, as well as the feast of St. Stephen and the “New Bread” in Hungary. The founder of the Hungarian Kingdom and Hungarian statehood, King Stephen I, under whose rule the Christianization of the country started, died on August […]Continue reading

This time, the Crown of St. Stephen was first brought to Szeged, then after a short stop at Nagyvárad the crown jewels were taken to Arad. Szemere wanted to make sure it was actually the real crown of St. Stephen in the transport box, so he followed in the footsteps of Sultan Suleiman and put the crown on his head as a test.

Shortly afterwards, however, the revolutionaries had to flee further and came to Orsova in the extreme southeast of the Bánát historical region, in today’s Romania. There, they first buried the box in a house. However, when they realized that this had not gone unnoticed, they looked for a new hiding place and buried the crown in a forest near the border with the Wallachia region.

Szemere was unsure from the start what to do with the jewels, and he carried them with him at all times while he was in Transylvania. He even lied to the government commissioner, telling him that the boxes were hiding important documents. In August 1849, the prime minister buried the crown several times until he found its final hiding place.

After these events, nobody saw the crown jewels for years, although the Austrians were looking for them. However, a spy sent to London was able to provide crucial information by chance. He managed to find someone in the circles of Hungarian exiles there who knew the location of the hiding place. The box was finally found on September 8, 1853, by the Austrian authorities in Orsova. The crown was carried back to Budafok on the Danube with great splendour aboard the steamer “Archduke Albrecht.”

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In 1916, in the middle of the First World War, a Hungarian king was crowned with the Holy Crown of St. Stephen for the last time. Emperor Karl was crowned as Charles IV of Hungary together with his wife Zita in the Matthias Church.

In 1945, the St. Stephen’s Crown was brought to the West by Hungarian patriots on the legendary gold train, and later moved to the USA. It only returned to Hungary in 1978 as part of the negotiations on the return of war trophies from the final phase of the Second World War.

Since 2000, it has been kept together with the imperial orb and the scepter in the dome of the Hungarian parliament building in Budapest.

Featured photo by Tibor Illyés/MTI