Saint Ladislaus

King of Hungary, born 1040; died at Neutra 29 July, 1095; one of Hungary’s national Christian heroes. He was the son of Béla I; the nobles, after the death of Geisa I, passed over Solomon, son of Andrew I, and chose Ladislaus to be their king in 1077. It is true that he made peace with Solomon, when the latter gave up all claims to the throne of Hungary; however, later on he rebelled against Ladislaus, who took him prisoner and held in the fortress of Visegrád. On the occasion of the canonization of Stephen I, Ladislaus gave Solomon his freedom, but in 1086 Solomon, with the aid of the heathen Cumans, revolted against Ladislaus a second time; the latter, however, vanquished them, and in 1089 gained another victory over the Turkish Cumans. In 1091 Ladislaus marched into Croatia, at the request of his sister, the widowed Queen Helena, and took possession of the kingdom for the crown of Hungary, where, in 1092, he founded the Bishopric of Agram (Zágráb). In the same year (1092), he also founded the Bishopric of Grosswardein (Nagy-Várad), in Hungary, which, however, some trace back to Stephen I. Ladislaus governed the religious and civil affairs of his assembly of the Imperial States at Szabolcs, that might almost be called a synod. He tried vigorously to suppress the remaining heathen customs. He was buried in the cathedral of Grosswardein. He still lives in the sagas and poems of his people as a chivalrous king. In 1192 he was canonized by Celestine III.


Family Conflict

When in the year 1001 King Vaik, son of Geza, known better by his Christian name Stephen, crowned himself as King of Hungary, the process of unification in the country took on a distinct air of hastening. He obtained consent for the coronation from Pope Sylvester II who was working in conjunction with Emperor Otto III.  This act was to warn of the diplomatic overtures made by the Polish Duke Boleslaw the Bold, who at the same time in Rome sought a similar outcome, but had to wait almost a quarter century.

King Vaik’s father Geza was baptized in the year 974 and began the Christianization of the country. It was Stephen who shaped this endeavor by supporting the development of the Church, forming a diocese and brutally suppressing local pagan separatisms. Emeryk, his son, was to continue with the important task of Christianizing the country. Unfortunately, in 1031 he died unexpectedly from a wound he sustained while hunting. Not wanting to leave the crown to his blood relative, pagan prince Vazul, he appointed his nephew Peter Orseolo, son of a Venetian Duke. The insulted Vazul raised a rebellion but it was bloodily crushed by Stephen. The prince was blinded and his three sons, Levente, Andrzej and Bela took shelter in Poland at the court of Casmir the Restorer.

It was at this point that Ladislaus, grandson of Vazul, son of Bela, came into the world. His mother, whose name is not known, was of the family Piast, daughter of King Mieszko II. He grew up in the shadow of battles between his father and uncles all in the name of the crown. With Russian support, Andrzej managed to take over the control, called Bela back to the country giving him authority over the third part of the state and guaranteed him succession after him. Together they defeated the army of Emperor Henry III. The agreement over succession was broken after the birth of Solomon in 1053. Andrzej married off his 5 year old son to Judith, sister of Henry IV, to assure him the crown. Some of the magnate families sided with Bela. Threatened by the loss of power over the land, Bela once again sought shelter in Poland at the court of Boleslaw the Bold.

Due to Polish aid, Bela was able to return to Hungary.  Furthermore, he destroyed his brother Andrzej’s troops in a battle under Moson. Andrzej, left seriously wounded after the battle, was captured and died shortly after. During the reign of Bela I (1061-1063), a new pagan rebellion erupted. The King managed to suppress it, but the country was left seriously weakened. German intervention, initiated by Solomon (nephew of Bela), provided a decisive blow.  Bela died during the war and his family had to seek refuge again in Poland while Solomon won the crown. Once again, the Polish Prince Boleslaw inserted himself with Hungarian affairs. The Raabski system restored Geza, son of Bela, reign over his father’s former district. This compromise did not satisfy anyone and civil war broke out in 1073. This time Solomon had to flee from the country away from his cousin and seek the help of the German court.  In 1074, Geza I took the throne with the support of his brother Ladislaus.


“The Pupil of Poland”

As the contemporary chronicler Gallus Anonymus (1116) noted, “From childhood he was raised in Poland and through these customs and way of life, he became a Pole.” It is not known how long Ladislaus stayed in Poland. The date of his birth is not known nor is the date of his return to Hungary. It is possible that he already returned during the co-regency of his father and uncle Andrzej. It is also possible that he may have returned after Bela had already won the crown. However, it is known with absolute certainty that Ladislaus supported his brother Geza against Solomon in 1074.

Another Polish chronicler, Master Vincent Kadlubek, in his Chronicle of Poland, wrote with great respect and appreciation about Ladislaus as being a faithful ally to the Piast dynasty.  “The Pupil of Poland” turned out to be a trusted friend of Boleslaw the Bold when the country was in crisis after the murder of Bishop Stanislaus of Krakow. The exiled king and his entire family were looking for political and military assistance to regain the throne. With pride, he was welcomed by King Ladislaus as this proved to be an opportunity to return the favor as he once received Polish assistance as he pursued to win back the thrown.

Gall describes their meeting: Boleslaw referred to Ladislaus as ‘his king,’ and Ladislaus acknowledged that Boleslaw ultimately made him king. One fault of Boleslaw was his vanity, which greatly hurt his rule early on. When Boleslaw, as a refugee, arrived in his kingdom, Ladislaus, a gentleman, saw Boleslaw in the distance and greeted him by stepping down from his horse.  This was a display of honor towards Boleslaw since refugees were not even acknowledged by peasants.  Meanwhile, Boleslaw was filled with pride and thought to himself, “I raised him as a child in Poland and sat him on the throne in Hungary. I do not agree with greeting him as my equal, as a king, but rather I will greet him with a kiss as I would a prince.” Ladislaus noticed this and then hurried off to make sure that Boleslaw was made to feel welcome in Hungary and that all his needs were met. When they met again later, they greeted each other as brothers. (Chronicle I, 28).

For many Poles, Jan Dlugosz (c 1480) perpetuates the good name of Ladislaus; his history honors many places that have Hungarian roots with an emphasis on places of “uncommon virtue” of this holy ruler.


Royal Brothers (1074-1095)

Under the reign of his older brother Geza, Ladislaus became a well-known figure within the political arena. Ladislaus and the younger Lambert travelled as allies to the Kievan prince Svyatoslav, Boleslaw the Bold, Croatian Zwoinmira and Otto of Olomouc all in hopes of strengthening Hungary’s position in the international arena against German domination and restore Solomon to power.

Ladislaus was respected among the Hungarian knights and lords and after the death of Geza, was elected king.  Dlugosz points out that contrary to his will and despite this advancement, Ladislaus “retained great modesty in relation to his cousin, King Solomon, and his main concern was to make sure Solomon was provided with everything but the royal title.” Ladislaus also provided care for Solomon’s entire family. A noteworthy fact is that Ladislaus did not consider himself the King of Hungary until after Solomon had died, not wanting to take the crown of a legitimately crowned king.

During the reign of Ladislaus I (1077-1095) Hungary grew stronger and maintained friendly relations with Poland. The ruler cooperated with the Pope and the Byzantine Empire. His daughter, Irene, married the Byzantine Emperor John II Comnenus. This union brought about the merger with Croatia, and later Ladislaus’ successor, Koloman the Scholar (1095-1114) united the two countries under one scepter.  He protected his homeland against the unruly Kumans, joined together Hungary and the area of Siedmiogrod (also known as Ardeal) and initiated the expansion at Rus Halicka. The political and religious integration of the realm was now completed.  It was also not until the reign of Ladislaus that the country perpetuated its new name. He had replaced the name of the land on the currency from “Panonia” to “Hungary.”


The Flawless Knight

In Jan Dlugosz’s Chronicle, he included Ladislaus’ obituary, which simultaneously was a summary of his life. “On the 29th of July, the Hungarian King Ladislaus died, having done many pious and saintly deeds, after 18 years of honest and righteous reign over the kingdom of Hungary.”  He joined two kingdoms, namely Dalmatia and Croatia. The previous ruler of these kingdoms, Zwonimir, his distant relative, was dying and since he had no children, made Ladislaus his rightful heir, leaving him the kingdom.” (Chronicle, 1095)

Ladislaus was canonized in 1192 by Pope Celestine III. His cult was experiencing its heyday in the 14th and 15th century when Hungary, the distant fortress of Christianity, was constantly in battle protecting itself from pagans and Turks. Siedmiogrod, or Ardeal, needed such an advocate. Ludwig the Hungarian swore on his grave in Waradyn that he would try to imitate Ladislaus. Many legends arose about Saint Ladislaus supporting the Hungarian military leaders’ efforts to preserve an independent state.  One legend states that during the Tartar invasion in 1345, the body of Saint Ladislaus vanished from his grave during one of the battles and was later found covered in sweat. One of the Tartar’s, a prisoner of war, testified that he saw Ladislaus fighting in the Hungarian ranks. The Hungarians believed they owed their victory to Saint Ladislaus.


Dynasty of the Holy Rulers

The medieval dynasty strived to ensure that the country was under heavenly protection.  The Czech Przemyslids had Wenceslas; the Rurykowic’s in Rus had Wlodzimierz and his sons Boris and Gleb.  The Apards (Hungarians) prided themselves with the largest number of saints. The most important was of course Saint Stephen I, first crowned ruler and organizer of the Hungarian church and state. Saint Stephen I was canonized in 1083 during the reign of Saint Ladislaus by Pope Gregory VII, who was a courageous knight of the Church’s reformation and fought for its independence from secular authority (Gregorian Reformation). Stephan has been remembered by the generations as the great founder of the Kingdom of Hungary, which since the Middle Ages became known as “the Crown of Saint Stephen.” The actual crown, housed in the National Museum of Budapest and the most precious national-religious relic of Hungary, was actually made in Constantinople for one of his successors, Geza.  The crown was sent to him by Emperor Michal VII Doukas, who had “faithful King of Hungary” engraved on it as a dedication.

Saint Ladislaus I not only finished the holy work of Christianization of the country, secured the position of Hungary in the Balkans, but also portrayed the ideal of righteous, pious rule. He also began the process of consolidating the new identity of Hungarians which helped Hungary accept its role as safeguard of Christendom against the Turkish invasion in Europe.

Fr. Pawel Szpyrka SJ