Pannonhalma Archabbey

Pannonhalma, Hungary

The Benedictine Pannonhalma Archabbey is one of the oldest historical monuments in Hungary, founded in 996. Saint Martin of Tours is believed to have been born at the foot of this hill, hence its former name, Mount of Saint Martin, from which the monastery occasionally took the alternative name of Márton-hegyi Apátság. This is the second largest territorial abbey in the world, after the one in Monte Cassino.

Its notable sights include the Basilica with the Crypt (built in the 13th century), the Cloisters, the monumental Library with 360,000 volumes, the Baroque Refectory and the Archabbey Collection (the second biggest in the country).

History

The abbey was founded as the first Hungarian Benedictine monastery in 996 by Prince Géza, who designated this as a place for the monks to settle, and then it soon became the centre of the Benedictine order. The monastery was built in honour of Saint Martin of Tours. Géza's son, King Stephen I donated estates and privileges to the monastery.

The oldest surviving document to use the Hungarian language, the Charter of the Tihany Benedictine Abbey, dating back to 1055, is still preserved in the library. In 1096, on his way to the holy lands as leader of one of three crusader armies, Duke Godfrey of Bouillon spent a week here negotiating his army's safe passage through Hungary from king Coloman. The first buildings of the community were destroyed in 1137, then rebuilt. The Basilica's pillars and the early Gothic vault were built in the early 13th century, using the walls of the former church. In 1486 the abbey was reconstructed under King Matthias in the Gothic style.

The monastery became an archabbey in 1541, and as a result of Ottoman incursions into Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries it was fortified. During one and a half centuries of the Turkish Occupation, the monks, however, had to abandon the abbey for shorter or longer periods of time. Only later were they able to start the reconstruction of the damaged buildings. During the time of Archabbot Benedek Sajghó, a major baroque construction was in progress in the monastery.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, rich Baroque adornments and extensions were added to the complex and much of its current facade dates from this time. It received its present form in 1832, with the library and the tower, which was built in classicist style. The 18th century, the era of the Enlightenment also influenced the life of the monasteries. The state and the monarchs judged the operation of the communities according to immediate utility, by and large tolerating only those orders which practised nursing and education. In the 1860s, Ferenc Storno organised major renovations, mostly in the basilica.

After 1945 Hungary became a communist state and in 1950 the properties of the Order and the schools run by the Benedictines were confiscated by the state, not to be returned until after the end of communism in Hungary. In 1995, one year before the millennium, the complex was entirely reconstructed and renovated. In 1996, 'the Millenary Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma and its Natural Environment' was elected among the World Heritage sites.

Basilica and crypt

The present church of Pannonhalma, a crowning achievement of the early Gothic style, was built at the beginning of the 13th century during the reign of Abbot Uros, and was consecrated most likely in 1224. Recent archaeological findings under the floor level of the west end of the basilica date from the 11th century. The oldest segment currently seen in the basilica is the wall of the southern aisle. Dating from the 12th century, it is a remnant of the second church to stand on the site, consecrated in 1137 during the reign of Abbot Dávid.

During the archaeological excavations two walled-up gates were found in the sacristy. One of these could have presumably been the northern entrance of Abbot Dávid's church, while the other that of Abbot Uros'. Also found under the floor between the front altar and the sanctuary steps was a grave, most likely that of Abbot Uros.

The church was extended during the reign of King Matthias, in which the present-day ceiling of the sanctuary, the eastern ends of the aisles and the Saint Benedict chapel were completed. During the Turkish occupation the furnishings were entirely destroyed. The most significant renovation after the occupation started in the 1720s, under Archabbot Benedek Sajghó. Ferenc Storno was the last to undertake a major renovation of the church in the 1860s. At this time the main altar, the pulpit, the frescoes of the ceiling, and the upper-level stained glass window depicting Saint Martin were added.

Cloister

In the Middle Ages one of the main entrances to the church was the Porta Speciosa (ornate entrance). This portal leads to the church from the cloister and it was crafted also in the 13th century. Under King Matthias' rule, in 1472, today's cloister was created. The constructions were probably finished in 1486, as it is testified by the inscription on one of the cornerstones.

LibraryThe library was finished in the first third of the 19th century. The longitudinal part of the building was planned and built by Ferenc Engel in the 1820s. Later János Packh was commissioned with extending the edifice, and the oval hall is his work. Joseph Klieber, a Vienna master was asked to ornament the interior of the building.

On the four sides of the oval hall's ceiling the allegories of the four medieval university faculties can be seen: Law, Theology, Medicine and the Arts. The holdings of the library have been increasing ever since. Manuscripts from the time of Saint László have been catalogued in Pannonhalma. As of today, 360,000 volumes are kept in the collection.

Baroque refectory

In the 18th century Archabbot Benedek Sajghó (1722–1768) had the Carmelite brother Atanáz Márton Witwer design the baroque elements of the monastery. The construction of the two-story high, rectangular shaped hall with cavetto vault probably dates to the second half of the 1720s. The paintings (secco) on the walls were created between 1728 and 1730 by Davide Antonio Fossati, a Swiss artist who later settled in Venice. The secco on the ceiling depicts the apotheosis of King Saint Stephen.

Botanical Garden

In 1830 as many as 80 tree and bush species were to be found on the Archabbey's lands. It was through the design of Fábián Szeder in the 1840s that the current form of the arboretum took shape. Today the arboretum has more than 400 tree and bush species, many of which are rare species and varieties in Hungary.

Archives

The Pannonhalma Archives of the Benedictine Archabbey contains one of the richest and most valuable collections of documents from the first centuries of Hungarian statehood. It includes the monastery's interpolated charter (1001–1002) from Saint Stephen, the founding charter of the Tihany Abbey (1055), the first known written text to include Hungarian words and phrases. The archive collects documents from the archabbot's office, the Theological School and the former Teacher Training School of the order, the former and current secondary schools, the dependent Benedictine houses, the finance offices of the Archabbey, and from the documentation of the parishes that belong to the so-called Territorial Abbey: a quasi-diocese under the authority of the Archabbey. Partially as deposit, partially as inheritance, the archives of the Guary, the Somogyi, the Chernel, the Kende, the Erdődy and the Lónyay families came into the collection. The amount of the archive's holdings is 192 running metres.

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Details

Founded: 996 AD
Category: Religious sites in Hungary

Rating

4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Gabor Gonda (2 years ago)
Very nice with excellent audio guide.
Rodgers KISIANG'ANI (2 years ago)
Religious-rich heritage
Zoltan Nemeth (3 years ago)
This is an impressive building above the small village with a nice view - if the weather is fine. The Abbey tour was rather short, because of the limited attractions, but it was OK. Unfortunately the audio guide device changed the language sometimes, but a local guide helped us. We liked the Basilica's moderate style. It's worth a visit. Don't miss the wine selection in the visitor's shop.
Mónika Koch (3 years ago)
Location and view is very nice, the library is beautiful but it is expensive considering that you cannot visit too many thing inside the building complex. The arboretum is a good place for a nice walk and to discover the herbs. There is a separate trip for brewery for a separate price.
Chris Nichols (3 years ago)
The best historical site in the city. Used a tour app to walk us through the history at our own pace and it was the way to go. The library was the highlight. Go early to reduce wait times for the church.
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From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.