Royal Sainthood Revisited. New Dimensions of the Cult of Saint Ladislas (14th-15th centuries)

Royal Sainthood Revisited. New Dimensions of the Cult of Saint Ladislas (14th-15th centuries)

Gruia, Ana Maria

Studia Patzinaka, Vol.2 (2006)

Dârjiu, murals in the Unitarian Church, Hungarian King Ladislaus I. of Hungary (left) fighting with a Cuman Warrior (right) - photo by Vargatamas

Abstract: Among the ruins of a fifteenth century town house from Baia, in Moldavia, the archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a gothic tile stove. Some of the tiles depicted fragments from the legend of Saint Ladislas, namely a particular scene in which the holy king is following the Cuman warrior. Ladislas, king of Hungary (1077-1095), canonized in 1192 at the initiative of King Béla III, was often presented as a martyr in the first hagiographic texts referring to him, while later on the emphasis shifted to those elements of the vita that reflected the values of chivalric culture.

This change in emphasis was also reflected in the visual representations of the legend of St. Ladislas. On the stove tile from Baia one can see the crowned saintly prince mounted on his horse (named in the sources Szog), ready to strike with his battleaxe the pagan whom he grabs by the hair. Certain details of arms, armour and horse saddlers add to the medieval knightly appearance of the two opponents. Ladislas holds a battleaxe, his main iconographic attribute (looking more like a halberd here) while the lower part of his body is protected by tassets. The tack of his horse includes a saddle, stirrups and a decorated girth. The Cuman rides his horse without a saddle, holding it by the reins, according to the nomadic way. He wears no armour but a simple garment and a waist belt.

The depicted episode is a popular, later addition to the legend of the holy king. During the times when Ladislas was still just prince of Hungary, presumably in 1068 during the battle of Kerles against the Pecsenegs (later called Cumans by the sources), he ran to the rescue of a fair maiden:

The saintly prince, Ladislas, then, espied a Pagan carrying on the back of his horse a beautiful Hungarian maiden. The prince thought that this maiden had been the daughter of the bishop of Varad, and, although being in severe wound, he started to pursue him, riding his horse whose name was Szog. But, then, when he reached by a lance’s point, he could do nothing, for his horse was unable to run faster, while the others did not fall back in speed. Then St. Ladislas cried to the maiden, saying: “Fair sister! Take the Cuman by his belt and jump off from the horse to the ground!” And she did as she was asked. But then, when the Cuman lay on the ground and prince Ladislas wanted to kill him with his lance, the maiden strongly asked him not to do so, but let him [the Cuman] go free. So it is clear from this as well, that there is no faith in women, for surely she wanted to spare the Cuman out of lusty love. The saintly prince, then, after a long battle, cut his [the Cuman’s] sinew, and killed him. But the maiden was not the bishop’s daughter.

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