Majk, where silence lived once

The domestic history of the Camaldolese monastic order in Majk began in the 1730s and is closely linked to the life of the Esterházy family. The Baroque monument complex, consisting of the monastery, seventeen cell houses and the church tower, is truly unique, as is the history of the family that owned the complex. In our latest selection, we recall the years of the Camaldolese order and the Esterházy family in Majk.

2014_5351.jpgThe monument complex is located on the outskirts of Oroszlány (Majkpuszta). The area was the property of the Csák clan, the Premonstratensian provostry of Majk stood here, which already existed before 1252, according to contemporary sources. In the autumn of 1388, King Sigismund and his wife visited the place, when they were hunting in the Vértes Mountain.

During the Ottoman occupation, the monks left Majk and the manor was annexed to the castle estate of Tata. From the middle of the 16th century onwards, the deteriorating estate changed hands frequently, until it passed into the hands of Count József Esterházy in 1727. Esterházy invited the Camaldolese hermits to his estate, donating the manor to the Order. The deed of donation is dated 1733.

The monastic order itself was founded by Saint Romuald around 980 in Italy. Known as the White Friars because of their white habit, their main vow was silence. The vowed hermits were not even allowed to communicate with each other, let alone with the outside world. They were allowed to talk twice a year, at Christmas and Easter, for three-three days. Their mission was to pray for everyone in the world, even those who never turned to God themselves.
In addition to the Esterházys, 16 other noble families supported the establishment of the hermitage by building a hermitage each. The only wish of the families who built the hermitages was that the hermits should say sermons for their spiritual salvation. The donators' memory is also commemorated by the coats of arms on the walls of the houses.

Constructions probably started in the year of the donation of the estate, and the founder, Count Esterházy, gave permission to use the ruins of Oroszlánkő and Gesztes castles. We also know that later building materials were brought from Zsámbék and Dunaalmás as well.

00369.jpgHowever, the complex in Majk is not only important for the history of the church, but also for cultural history. The building complex is a very important stage of Baroque art in Hungary, where the best Austrian masters turned up, including Franz Anton Pilgram, an important figure of Austrian Rococo architecture, who supervised the construction as the designer and builder contractor from 1734 until his death. After his death, the architect of the count's family, Jakab Fellner, supervised the work. However, the mark of the hand of the great Austrian master of painting, Anton Maulbertsch, was also to be found, because he made the ceiling frescoes of the monastery church. All that is in the past, as the church took fire and was destroyed by a stroke of lightning in 1810. Hardly any authentic representations of its former appearance remained, with only the tower standing as a memento today.

How do we know the masters who were commissioned to decorate and furnish the church? By the surviving cashbook entries.
It is a strange twist of fate that the monks were allowed to stay here only for half a century, and Joseph II dissolved the order in 1782, as they were not engaged in teaching or nursing activities. After that, the monks left Majk, their cell houses were emptied, the estate was taken over by the Royal Chamber, and later workers moved into the houses.

05557.jpgSoon afterwards, the manor became the property of the Esterházys again. In 1860, Móric Esterházy had the main building converted into a hunting lodge. The ceiling stuccoes and frescoes from the Camaldolese time were preserved during the work, and can still be seen today. The area surrounding the castle was transformed into an English park by planting rare and valuable special trees, and the family enjoyed staying in Majk besides Csákvár. Móric Esterházy, who was also Prime Minister for a few months in 1917, married Margit Károlyi in 1918. They did a lot for the village, supported the school, provided the village with a doctor and took care of the elderly. The hermits’ houses were occupied by the servants of the family, while the manor buildings were occupied by craftsmen.

Esterházy returned to politics in 1931 as a member of parliament, but he paid a heavy price for his involvement, as he advocated the exit from war all along, and was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944. In February 1945, he was deported to the concentration camp at Mauthausen, from which he was not allowed to return until September. In the meantime, he was deprived of his lands and was allowed to keep only 11 acres.
However, the war did not affect only the family: according to local reports, the Russian soldiers who were marching in, carelessly lighting candles for lack of electricity, set fire to the upstairs of the castle, and the family archives, valuable volumes and furniture were burnt up. According to those who remember the event, the estate was pillaged, everything that could be moved was taken.

03561.jpgThe 1950s saw further changes in the family's life, and it was then that cell 13 got a very illustrious tenant. The family was deported to Hort in Heves County in 1951, and only Margit Károlyi, the grandmother - known to readers of Harmonia Cælestis - was allowed to stay in Majk. The woman was not registered as a resident of Budapest because of an administrative error. The Countess stayed with her sister Emma on their former estate, her husband and daughter defected to Vienna, and Móric Esterházy died in the Austrian capital in 1960, only his memorial plaque remained in the mausoleum in Ganna.

A couple of years ago, the TV of Oroszlány made a documentary film about Countess Margaret Károlyi, entitled The Countess of Cell 13. The film features interviews with elderly locals who came into contact with the countess's family as children. Many of them pointed out that the Countess was a strict but generous and giving woman, donating clothes and shoes to families in the area for Christmas. The family had three sons and a daughter, Mátyás, Marcell, Menyhért and Monika. In World War II, Marcell died under unclear circumstances and Menyhért died of polio. Mátyás' children often stayed with their grandmother.
After 1945, there was a military field hospital here, a creative house of the Hungarian Women Writers' Circle, an Agricultural Vocational School and Dorm, a workers' hostel, and in summer pioneers camped within the historic walls. Unfortunately, soil movement caused by coal mining in the area also caused significant damage to the building complex.

03568.jpgFortunately, renovation of the complex will soon be completed. The tower and the foresteria (guesthouse) will be restored, together with the cell houses and the fountain in the courtyard, a permanent feature of photographs. This Renaissance-style "Venetian" well, whose side panels are decorated with angels, griffins and roses bearing the Esterházy family’s coat of arms, was an engagement gift. When Margit Károlyi married Móric Esterházy in 1918, they could not go to Venice for their honeymoon, so they received this well as a wedding present from Count Gyula Károlyi's castle in Nagykárolyi.
The well was the subject of many legends among the locals, including one about an underground system of passages. In the 1980s, to confirm this rumour, a team of researchers went down into the well, and during the exploration, they discovered the entrance to the catacombs. The exploration also revealed that the catacombs were also connected to the hermitage, and the exit was found outside the monastery. Its purpose and origin are still unclear, as the corridor system could not be fully explored, because it collapsed after a few metres from the exit. It seems that the monument complex still holds surprises after its restoration.

The cover presents slides by István Skoflek and this one below, as well as a picture by Elemér Révhelyi.

Translated by Zita Aknai


Magyar Műemlékvédelem – Az Országos Műemléki Felügyelőség Kiadványai Magyar Műemlékvédelem 1961-1962 (Országos Műemléki Felügyelőség Kiadványai 3. Budapest, 1966)

Esterhazy Péter: Harmonia caelestis, Magvető, Budapest, 2000.


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