King Saint Stephen of the Árpád-house
(born: around 970 - died: 15 August 1038)
Saint Stephen I was Grand Prince of the Hungarians (997-1000) and the first King of Hungary (1000-1038). He greatly expanded Hungarian control over the Carpathian Basin during his lifetime, broadly established Christianity in the region, and he is generally considered to be the founder of the Kingdom of Hungary. Pope Gregory VII canonized Stephen I, together with his son, Saint Emeric of Hungary and Bishop Gerard of Csanád, on 20 August 1083, becoming one of the most popular saints in Hungary, and his birthday is celebrated as a state holiday commemorating the foundation of the nation.
According to Hungarian tradition Pope Silvester II, with the consent of Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor, sent a magnificent jeweled gold crown to Stephen along with an apostolic cross and a letter of blessing officially recognizing Stephen as the Christian king of Hungary. Later this tradition was interpreted as the papal recognition of the independence of Hungary from the Holy Roman Empire.
After (or just before) his coronation Stephen I founded several dioceses, ie, the dioceses of Veszprém, Győr, Kalocsa, Vác, Bihar. He also established the Archdiocese of Esztergom, thus he set up an ecclesiastical organisation independent of the German archbishops. He also began to organize a territory-based administration by founding several counties in his kingdom.
Stephen discouraged pagan customs and strengthened Christianity with various laws. In his first decree, issued in the beginning of his rule, he ordered that each ten villages would be obliged to build a church. He invited foreign priests to Hungary to evangelize his kingdom; Saint Astricus served as his adviser, and Stephen also employed Saint Gerard Sagredo as the tutor for his son Emeric (also rendered as Imre).
Around 1003, Stephen invaded and occupied Transylvania, a territory ruled by his maternal uncle, Gyula, a semi-independent chieftain; and after this victory, Stephen organized the Diocese of Transylvania. In the next few years he also occupied the lands of the Black Magyars in the Southern part of Transdanubia, and there organized the Diocese of Pécs. Shortly afterwards, it is believed that he made an agreement with Samuel Aba, the chieftain of the Kabar tribes settled in the Mátra region, who married Stephen's sister; in his brother-in-law's domains, Stephen founded the Diocese of Eger.
In his external politics Stephen I allied himself with his brother-in-law, the Emperor Henry II against Prince Boleslaw I of Poland, who had extended his rule over the territories between the Morava and Váh Rivers. Stephen sent troops to the Emperor's army, and in the Peace of Bautzen, in 1018, the Polish prince had to hand over the occupied territories to Stephen.
Shortly afterwards, Stephen sent troops to help Boleslaw I in his campaign against the Kievan Rus'. In 1018, Stephen lead his armies against Bulgaria, in alliance with the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, and collected several relics during his campaign.
After the death of Henry II, Stephen broke with the German alliance, because the new Holy Roman Emperor, Conrad II claimed the supremacy over the Kingdom of Hungary, while Stephen demanded the Duchy of Bavaria for his son Emeric who was the nearest relative of the deceased Emperor Henry II. In 1027, Stephen had Bishop Werner of Strasbourg, the envoy sent by Conrad II to the Byzantine Empire, arrested at the frontier. In 1030, the Emperor lead his armies against Hungary, but Stephen's troops enforced their retreat. Stephen and the Emperor Conrad II concluded peace negotiations in 1031, and the territories between the Leitha and Fischa Rivers were ceded to Hungary.
Stephen intended to retire to a life of holy contemplation and hand the kingdom over to his son Emeric, but Emeric was wounded in a hunting accident and died in 1031. In Stephen's words of mourning: By God's secret decision death took him, so that wickedness would not change his soul and false imaginations would not deceive his mind - as the Book of Wisdom teaches about early death.
Stephen mourned for a very long time over the loss of his son, which took a great toll on his health. He eventually recovered, but never regained his original vitality. Having no children left, he could not find anyone among his remaining relatives who was able to rule the country competently and willing to maintain the Christian faith of the nation. He did not want to entrust his kingdom to his cousin, Duke Vazul whom he suspected to be following pagan customs. The disregarded duke took part in conspiracy aimed at the murder of Stephen I, but the assassination attempt failed and Vazul had his eyes gouged out and molten lead poured in his ears. Unable to choose an heir, King Stephen died on the Feast of the Assumption (15 August) in the year 1038 at Esztergom-Szentkirály or Székesfehérvár, where he was buried. His nobles and his subjects were said to have mourned for three straight years afterwards.
Following Stephen's death, his nephew Peter Urseolo (his appointed heir) and brother-in-law Samuel Aba contended for the crown. Nine years of instability followed until Stephen's cousin Andrew I was crowned King of Hungary in 1047 to re-establish the Árpád dynasty. Hungarian historiography saw Peter and Samuel as members of the Árpád dynasty, and both are counted among the Árpád kings.
Shortly after Stephen's death, healing miracles were said to have occurred at his tomb. Stephen was canonized by Pope Gregory VII as Saint Stephen of Hungary in 1083, along with his son, Saint Emeric and Bishop Gerhard. Thus Saint Stephen became the first of the canonized Confessor Kings, a new prototype of saints.