The Hospitallers in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary, c. 1150–1387

The Hospitallers in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary, c. 1150–1387

By Zsolt Hunyadi

PhD Dissertation, Central European University, 2004

Introduction: The primary goal of this dissertation is to reveal the major characteristics of the history of the Hospital of St. John in Hungary from its appearance in the mid-twelfth century up to the end of the Angevin rulership (1387). The starting point of the research is obvious, but the choice of the end dates was suggested by the fundamental changes which took place from the last decade of the fourteenth century. These changes concerned not only the Order of the Hospital as an ecclesiastical body but also the structure of the Hungarian society as a whole at the beginning of the reign of King Sigismund of Luxembourg (1387-1437).

Present-day scholarly needs spring from the enormous hiatus in research on (medieval) church history after the Second World War because scholars of the period adopted a different agenda. This dearth of research affected particularly studies on the military-religious orders and this situation is demonstrated by the fact that the last scholarly Hungarian monograph on the Templars was published in 1912 (by Ferenc Patek) and on the Hospitallers in 1925-1928 (by Ede Reiszig). A few articles and some popular works have come out since then, but these were backed by no new research on primary sources. Croatian scholars, primarily Lelja Dobroni, made several attempts in the 1980s to correct the arrears of many decades of work, but in the end she failed in several respects. Besides various misunderstandings originating either from Reiszig or lying with herself, one of the fundamental problems with her work is that she drew a one-sided picture on the Order. She studied the activity of the Order in the region of present-day Croatia, which is only one half of the former Hungarian-Slavonian priory of the Hospital (which covered present-day Hungary, Croatia, Romania, and partly Slovenia). Undoubtedly, the territorial distribution of the preceptories indicates a certain preference for Slavonia from the fourteenth century onwards, but it is still unhistorical to approach this issue according to the borders of modern states. Similar research problems arose in the case of other religious orders and it turned out that only detailed, critical research can resolve fundamental questions such as the actual numbers of houses of religious orders in medieval Hungary.

One problem with the early monographs (from Georgius Pray to Ede Reiszig) is that they do not meet modern scholarly standards, although many scientific works (especially source editions) have stood the test of time. Re-thinking the questions about the Hospitallers is motivated by the fact that the exploitation of new sources and using new methods may yield more exact and reliable results, which will eventually channel the students of the field towards contemporary international standards. Accordingly, the thorough revision of Ede Reiszig’s work on the Hospitallers in Hungary is not barely justified by the period of eight decades that have elapsed so far. The historiography of the Hospitallers has also been burdened with a serious conceptual problem for a long time. In contrast to the Western European context, Hungarian — and many Central European — (Latin) written sources often use the term crucifer instead of the appropriate frater hospitalis, miles Templi, conceivably with reference to the cross depicted on their habits. This led to confusion, as many scholars treated the houses and the landed properties of other orders of similar status (e.g., the Order of St. Anthony, the Order of the Holy Spirit, and so on) as belonging to the Hospital, and vice versa. On the basis of this perception and by a close reading of primary sources as well as by the clarification of the notions and denominations applied in the primary sources, Karl-Georg Boroviczény, a German hematologist of Hungarian origin discovered or, in fact, singled out (in the late 1960s), a formerly unknown religious institution, the Order of Hospitaller Canons Regular of St. Stephen, founded by the Hungarian King Géza II around the mid-twelfth century. The members of this order were also called cruciferi in contemporary sources — they even used this expression in the inscriptions of their own charters — but they had nothing in common with either the crusaders or with the Hospital of St. John. Mainstream Hungarian scholarship accepted Boroviczeny’s ideas but has failed to draw the necessary conclusions, namely, that the history (settling down, presence, activity, role) of the Hospitallers in the Hungarian kingdom should be fundamentally reconsidered.

Click here to read this thesis from Central European University

This thesis was revised and published by Central European University Press – click here to learn more about the book

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