In a letter to the leaders of Hungarian Baptist Aid in Washington, DC, former United States President Jimmy Carter marked the 40th anniversary of the return of the Holy Crown to Hungary.
Writing to to Hungarian Baptist Aid head Sándor Szenczy, the 93-year-old Carter recalled that the return of the crown of Saint Stephen (r. 1000-1038) and other coronation regalia had ushered in improved relations between Hungary and the US. The crown and regalia were taken from Hungary near the end of the Second World War, and given to an American officer by a Hungarian colonel. Eventually, they found their way to the US, where they were safeguarded in Fort Knox for several decades.
The crown, which for hundreds of years has held immense symbolic and constitutional power for Hungarians (at one point, kings were not considered to be legitimate unless they had been crowned with the Holy Crown), was returned to Hungary on January 6, 1978, after lobbying by the head of the American Hungarian Baptist Union Sándor Haraszti and US evangelist Billy Graham.
US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance (center-left) shaking hands with Hungarian Speaker of the House Antal Apró at the ceremonial return of the Holy Crown of St. Stephen to Hungary, on January 6, 1978 (Photo: MTI – Jenő Pap)
As the US Embassy in Budapest’s official site notes,
The decision by President Jimmy Carter to return the Crown in 1978 was a controversial one, and one which took political courage. President Carter made his decision based on the evidence that Hungary’s record on human rights – its tolerance of religious expression, its facilitating of travel and communication – while not perfect, deserved recognition as an example to other Soviet-bloc countries…Carter felt that it was only right that the Crown be returned before a whole generation of Hungarians came of age without understanding its symbolism. After all, he said, the Crown belonged to the Hungarian people.
The US delegation that returned the Holy Crown to Hungary was led by Secretary of State Cryus Vance, and included Senator Adlai Stevenson, Congressman Lee Hamilton, and Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi.
Last week in Budapest, Hungarian Baptists’ role in the return of the Holy Crown was acknowledged by state secretary for church affairs Miklós Soltész at the inauguration of a new building by the Hungarian Baptist Church. Soltész expressed the thanks of the government and the Hungarian nation for the church’s efforts to bring the crown home.
Visitors in the Hungarian Parliament viewing the Holy Crown of St. Stephen on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the return of the Hungarian Crown Jewels to Budapest (Photo: MTI – Zoltán Balogh)
The Holy Crown and coronation regalia are the oldest of their kind in Europe, Endre Toth, a retired Hungarian National Museum curator, noted on public television on Saturday. He added that the decision to return them by then-President Carter had been one motived by “conscience and morality,” rather than by politics.
Parliament opened its doors to the public on Saturday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Holy Crown’s return.
In addition, a conference was held at Budapest’s Pázmány Péter Catholic University to mark the 40th anniversary of the Holy Crown’s return.
Justice Minister László Trócsányi said in his address that the crown was “a symbol of national independence, as well as a source of the power of the public and individual freedom rights”. He added that the crown “embodies Hungary’s constitutional continuity and the unity of the nation.”
Trócsányi expressed Hungary’s gratitude to the United States for having “saved, preserved and returned” the crown to Hungary.
David John Kostelancik, chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Budapest, called his country’s returning the crown in 1978 a milestone in bilateral relations. He said the strength of those ties lay in shared values and institutions, as well as the friendship between the two nations.
Tamás Sulyok, president of the Constitutional Court, said in his closing address that the crown was “an embodiment of Hungary’s sovereignty, of the constitutional continuity of the state, and also of restrictions to the power of the state; it is a cardinal component of our national identity.”
Via MTI, Hungary Matters, and the US Embassy in Budapest
Images via MTI