A Summer School on Hungarian Church History

by Elvira Tamus (@evtamus)

Between the 6th and 8th August 2021, I attended the 7th Fraknói Summer Academy organised for postgraduate students and early career researchers interested in Hungarian church history. It was an unique opportunity for young historians, including me, to get to know the latest scholarly collaborations and debates in the field of church history. Moreover, it served as a hub where we could improve our professional networks while conversing with fellow MA and PhD students and established scholars from various universities.

The Vilmos Fraknói Vatican Historical Research Group was created in 2012 by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Péter Pázmány Catholic University with the aim of studying political, diplomatic, institutional and cultural history. The group, led by Péter Tusor, focuses on neglected sources in the Vatican collections along with Hungarian and Viennese archives. [1]

It is also dedicated to the training and mentoring of future historians. The summer school is organised in a different town each year to highlight Hungary’s diverse Christian heritage. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Győr, this year’s venue, was established by King Stephen I of Hungary (1000/1001–1038). In the Middle Ages, the diocese’s Benedictine, Cistercian, Premonstratensian, Dominican, Franciscan, and Pauline monks were important actors in ecclesiastical civilisation. Győr is the home of three significant relics – the herm (head-reliquary) of King Ladislaus I of Hungary (1077–1095); an Irish icon of the Virgin Mary that was ‘weeping’ on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1697; and the sarcophagus of Blessed Bishop Vilmos Apor, opponent of Nazi and communist persecutions.

A presentation at the Fraknói Summer Academy

After two panels on late medieval and early modern church history, István Fazekas, Zsófia Kádár and László Pilitka introduced a recent publication on the early modern birth registry of the Jesuit college in Győr. It was fascinating to learn about the joint efforts of several scholars to analyse, categorise and interpret a prodigious amount of data. Then, we listened to a podium discussion with Gáspár Csóka, Benedictine monk and historian, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of his ordination. It was a special opportunity to hear a priest’s experiences in teaching and researching church history during Hungary’s socialist era.

The second day’s talks dealt with early modern and modern church history. In András Forgó’s paper on the Enlightenment’s connection with the Benedictine Order, it was pointed out that the ecclesiastical intellectuals were proactively engaged in the process in which the Enlightenment affected education, networks, and monks’ everyday lives. Krisztina Tóth’s presentation on Pope John Paul II’s 1996 visit to Hungary was especially relevant in the light of two current events. In August 2021, we commemorated the 30th anniversary of the first time the Polish pope came to Hungary and urged the reconciliation between Christian denominations. After an ecumenical service in the Reformed Great Church of Debrecen (in which my mother was involved as a choir singer), John Paul II personally laid a wreath at the Protestant galley slaves’ memorial. On the 12th September 2021, Pope Francis I celebrated the closing mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest.

Archives of the Benedictine Archabbey of Pannonhalma

The most exciting part of the summer school for me was a study trip to the Benedictine Archabbey of Pannonhalma, the world’s second largest territorial abbey after Monte Cassino. We visited its incredibly rich archive and library, Hungary’s oldest book collection, which was founded in the year 996 and became an UNESCO World Heritage in 1996. Finally, we listened to Archabbot Emeritus Asztrik Várszegi’s talk about the Benedictines’ history in Pannonhalma between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries. On the third day, we attended a mass celebrated by András Veres, bishop of Győr in the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady. Before we said goodbye, we went to see the Diocesan Archives of Győr as well.

Library of the Benedictine Archabbey of Pannonhalma

Apart from travel costs, attendees paid approximately £15 for all academic and social activities, besides accommodation and catering. If PhD students had more opportunities to attend such accessible and affordable events, our learning experience, research skills and networking opportunities could be significantly improved. I benefited a lot from chatting with some of the most eminent scholars and brightest doctoral candidates over a nice lunch or during our excursion to one of Hungary’s most breathtaking towns. As a postgraduate based in England, it was a rare privilege to have made personal connections with historians who work at Hungarian institutions, and with whom I could discuss their academic results as well as my own research plans.

[1] You can read more about the Vilmos Fraknói Vatican Historical Research Group and its publications on this English-language website: http://www.institutumfraknoi.hu/en

Photographs: Photographs 1-4 taken by the organisers of the Fraknói Summer Academy and reproduced with permission.

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