A symbol of unity for more than a thousand years, the crown of St. Stephen was a gift to Geza the first from Michael VII Doukas of the Byzantine Empire. Occasionally confused with the papal crown, a gift from Pope Sylvester around the year one thousand that resides in the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, the actual Holy Crown of Hungary has united the people of this European country for centuries.
While King Geza of Hungary was given the crown and was the first to wear it as the legitimate king, it has been passed down through the centuries to adorn the heads of more than fifty rulers. Last used to signify the legitimacy of King Charles IV in 1916, it has not been used since for a royal ruling in that country.
Beautifully crafted with gold, gems and enameled pictures, it is a masterpiece of workmanship. It was also an insult to the first ruler to use it as it depicted him with a lower status than both Christ and Emperor Michael VII by ensuring his picture upon the back of the crown was placed lower than both of them.
The importance of Christianity at the time is seen in the placement and choices of the pictures placed around the crown. Christ is foremost on the front of the crown on his throne, and he is flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Michael. It is a scene that is meant to show that Christ is the legitimate ruler over all mankind, but it does have room for other rules. King Geza is pictured on the back of the crown with his heir and son, Romanos. The spaces around the crown between Christ and King Geza provide a visual record of saints known at the time as fierce warriors to defend the faith.
Passed down through centuries to each new legitimate king, this beautiful crown was a factor in unifying the people of Hungary. It fell out of use after the last king, but it was still considered a national treasure. When the end of World War II came about, Hungary fell into the sphere of the Soviets. Having dealt with the loss of many of their precious artifacts at the hands of foreign invaders, the trust of outside influence was low.
The drawing of the Iron Curtain across the European landscape gave the leaders of the country pause when it came to their important national treasure, and they chose to send it to the United States for safekeeping. It resided safely there until it was returned during the presidency of Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s, and it was ceremoniously accepted by the Hungarian government of the time.
Ancient treasures are often important symbols that help keep a country together, and they can bring hope to the people in even the most desperate of times. The history of St. Stephen’s crown is one that has bolstered the Hungarian people through centuries of war and peace, and it remains their symbol of hope for the future.