Forgotten monastery and church ruins

It is always impressive when one encounters a forgotten ruin while hiking. A slightly foundered sidewall, a Gothic window frame, an elaborated chapiter in the grass, and a forest that, while guarding the ruins from uninitiated visitors, also destroys it. This week we are visiting abandoned church and monastery ruins, from Bükkszentlélek to Nagyvázsony.

Bükkszentlélek – the Pauline monastery ruins


The ruins of the Bükkszentlélek or Dédes monastery, hidden in the Bükk Mountains, are located at an altitude of 710 metres. The first written record of the monastery dates from 1240. However, the hermits living here cannot be considered Pauline yet, as according to the tradition of the only Hungarian-founded Pauline order, Blessed Eusebius of Esztergom founded the monastic order in 1245.

Presumably, this community of unknown origin may have lived in wooden buildings here until the construction of the first stone monastery. The remaining ruins refer to a beautiful, Gothic edifice. Friars of Szentlélek received donations several times together with the nearby monastery of Diósgyőr. The monastery was generously supported by Louis I of Hungary and later by Matthias Corvinus. It was an important location as it also served as a resting place during royal hunts. Yet what could lead to its depopulation? In 1526, the monastery was first destroyed by Gáspár Serédy - commander of Ferdinand I in Kassa (Košice) - and in 1540 by the people of Zsigmond Balassa, out of revenge, because the friars complained about the arbitrariness of the Balassas.

The monastery was completely depopulated around 1550. It was last mentioned in 1737, when the ruin was returned to the Paulines of Diósgyőr. The monastery was never rebuilt; its ruins were noticed again in the middle of the 19th century. Archaeological excavations began here in 1974 and the conservation of the monument took place. After that, nothing happened for decades. The case of the unworthy condition of the monastery ruin was taken up in 2011 by a group of volunteers from Miskolc, the Csatárlánc (Striker Chain). After that, the Herman Ottó Museum in Miskolc started archaeological research in connection with the restoration of the already poled triumphal arch.

Zsámbék –the Premonstratensian ruined church 

2013_0251.jpgThe immediate predecessor of the church seen today was built after 1220. The Premonstratensian church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, stood along one of the most important routes in the country connecting Székesfehérvár and Esztergom. A stone church stood here as early as of 1050s, but it was consecrated only after the Tartar invasion. The Premonstratensians were active in the settlement for more than two centuries, but after that the order weakened, King Matthias took the church and the monastery from them and gave them to the Paulines. Late Gothic reconstructions during the Pauline decades were explored in the 1930s.

In the Ottoman era, the building complex was transformed into a fortress, so it lived in relative integrity for centuries to come. However, in an earthquake on 28 June, 1763, its northern aisle collapsed - and the ruin was not renovated.

In the 1870s, Flóris Rómer and Imre Henszlmann recognized its value. At the end of the 19th century, István Möller preserved the truncated church as a ruin. Only a wagon-vaulted hall - now the stone storehouse -, the former refectory, the foundation walls and the cellar system belonging to the monastery remained from the building.

The church ruins are not in good condition; it is estimated that they may have less than fifty years ahead. According to some opinions, a roof should be built over the walls, which would protect the ruins from the elements. Anyway, it seems there is hope, because under a new government decision, preparations for restoration can begin soon.

Vértesszentkereszt – the Benedictine abbey

06274.jpgOne of the gems of our Roman architecture is the ruins of a former Benedictine monastery and church hidden in the forest between Oroszlány and Pusztavám. The 12th-century monastery was owned by several orders over the centuries.The Benedictine monastery in the Vértes Mountains was founded before 1146 by the Csák clan, in honour of the Holy Cross. The church of the first monastery was rebuilt in the 1210s, when it gained its still visible shape. It is probable that between 1210 and 1240 the monastery was owned by the Cistercian order, but thereafter in the late Middle Ages it was still a Benedictine monastery. By the second half of the 15th century the buildings were already in poor condition. It seems the monks were unable to renovate their monastery.

In 1478, King Matthias Corvinus gave the monastery, which had begun to decline, to the observant Dominicans, who established their convent here in 1505. After the Ottomans occupied Tata Castle, the monks fled and the Ottomans set the monastery on fire. The area was owned by the Esterházy family since 1754, and the count's family actually treated the abandoned abbey as a quarry. Its stones were used to build a mill and a dam at Lake Bokodi. At the same time, many carvings were utilized by incorporating them into the castle of Csákvár and in the artificial ruin built in Tata English Park. Today, the carved stones from here are preserved in the Kuny Domokos Museum in Tata.

Later, Flóris Rómer also noticed the monastery, but excavations covering large areas took place only between 1964 and 1971. According to the decision of the Monument Inspectorate, the Vértesszentkereszt monument cannot be visited at present.

Nagyvázsony – the Pauline monastery


The ruins of the monastery are located 5-600 metres from the Castle of Nagyvázsony in the woods. Today, it is difficult to imagine the 16-metre-high church dedicated to St. Michael and the monastery belonging to it, which was home to more than twenty Pauline monks in its heyday.

The founders of the monastery were Pál Kinizsi and his father-in-law, Balázs Magyar. According to a legend, Kinizsi had the monastery built from the ransom of an Ottoman prisoner. The story may have a basis for reality, because István Báthori - Kinizsi's comrade in arms - had the church in Nyírbátor built from the booty of the battle of Kenyérmező. The late Gothic monastery may have been built around 1485-86. After Kinizsi's death, the second husband of his widow, Benigna Magyar, was buried here as well. Today, both tombstones are exhibited in the castle. After the disaster in Mohács, the Paulines of Nagyvázsony stood on the side of Ferdinand I due to the location of their estates. He issued a letter of protection in 1528, according to which it was forbidden to settle armies in the monastery. However, this letter did not protect the friars, later when the Ottomans occupied Székesfehérvár in 1543, most of the friars escaped to Pápa with the treasures of the monastery.

At the fall of Veszprém in 1552, they barely remained within the walls of the monastery. To prevent the Ottomans from turning the building into a fortress - threatening the nearby Nagyvázsony border fortress - the monastery was blown up and its stones were used for strengthening the castle. We know from the codices made there that the monastery was inhabited by educated and zealous friars. One codex was written for the nuns of Veszprém, two were written for Benigna Magyar. István Éri and János Sedlmayr explored and preserved the building, which is also impressive in its ruins, in the 1950s.

Translated by Zita Aknai



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