Diocese of Saint Catharines


Monks of Pannonhalma Abbey converted ancient Hungarians to Christianity

18173-4440-pannonhalma-04LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - St. Martin of Tours was born at the base of Márton-hegy, according to local legend, a small mountain west of Budapest. In 996, Prince Géza founded the Benedictine monastery at the top of the mountain, which was dedicated to St. Martin and populated with monks from Italy, Bohemia and Germany.

Quickly becoming an important center of Christianity and medieval culture in Eastern Europe, the monks of Pannonhalma Abbey successfully converted the unruly Hungarians to Christianity. The monks also founded Hungary's first school and produced the first document in the Hungarian language in 1055.

King St. Stephen, who lived from 1000 until 1038, the founder's son and first king of Hungary, was a frequent guest. The abbey also housed Godfrey and his knights on their way to the Holy Land in the First Crusade.

The original monastery buildings were burnt to the ground in the 12th century. The present abbey church at Pannonhalma was commissioned by Abbot Uros, who had carefully studied Italian architecture during his year and a half at the Fourth Lateran Council. Abbot Uros' monastery was both beautiful and structurally sound. He successfully fought off an invasion by the Mongols from within its walls in 1241.

The Hungarian king took over the monastery in 1472 and embellished it significantly, adding the present cloisters and other monastic buildings. Pannonhalma was again fortified in 1526 due to the approaching Ottomon Turks. It was designated an archabbey in 1541.

The Turks arrived at the abbey 50 years later, occupying it from 1594. By that time Pannonhalma had already suffered a fire and most of the monks had abandoned the area. The monastic community was reestablished in 1638, but did not really recover until after 1683, when Mathias Palfy became the abbot.

Architecturally, many Baroque elements were added to the abbey buildings, including the present refectory, under Abbot Benedek Sajgho in the 18th century. The monastery was closed by the Enlightenment government in 1786 because it was not considered useful enough to the state.

The abbey was once again opened in 1802 on the condition that it provide secondary education. Education was extremely important to Pannonhalma Abbey, and it still hosts a school today. The 19th century saw the addition of the monastic library and extensive renovation of the church and cloister.

On the thousand-year anniversary of its foundation in 1996, UNESCO declared Pannonhalma Abbey a World Heritage Site because "from the time of its founding, this monastic community has promoted culture throughout central Europe." There were 68 monks at Pannonhalma Abbey on the occasion. In addition to the secondary school (with about 360 students led by 11 monks), the abbey provides a theological school and a nursing home for the elderly.

Located in a lovely forest, the abbey features a botanic garden and boasts fine views from its hilltop site. Most visits begin at the modern Reception Building next to the parking lot, which contains an information desk, gift shop, toilets and other facilities. An attractive pedestrian bridge leads to the medieval abbey.

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