Holy Right – the Hungarian Relic, Hand of St Stephen in the Basilica, Budapest

The Holy Right  (Szent Jobb) hand of the founding founder and first king of the Hungarians, St Stephen is in the Szent Jobb Chapel in the St Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest. You can see the relic for a almost free (there is a nominal fee for which you can illuminate the relic by pushing a button).

Holy Right of St Stephen in the Basilica, Budapest

Holy Right of St Stephen in the Basilica, Budapest (photo by Lajos Cser)

The relic is the absolute protagonist of the most important Hungarian national holiday, the celebrations of which take place on Aug 20th. Aug 20th is a triple holiday: Hungarians celebrate the birth of the Hungarian constitution, and the foundation of the kingdom of Hungary, the saint day of St Stephen, and the consecration of bread (also saying thank you for the new summer wheat and bread). The Holy Right relic leads the parade in the processions on Aug 20.

History of the Holy Right

The Holy Right hand relic travelled here and there, and it had a peculiar history.

As King Stephen was canonized St Stephen in 1083 by Pope Gregory VII at the request of King St Laszlo. His crypt in the Basilica of Szekesfehervar was re-opened and his corpse exhumed. The only snag was that here was no right arm! King Laszlo started to investigate the situation and went to see Abbot Mercurius, who confessed the king that it was he who lopped off the ruling right hand when in 1061 the pagans revolted and threatened the basilica and the relatively young Christian community, and when the priests decided to remove the corpse of St Stephen from its privileged sarcophagus and hid it under the floor slabs of the basilica (in Szekesfehervar). King St Laszlo accepted the abbot’s explanation and preventive measures and ordered him to build a new monastery in a town renamed after the Holy Right (Szent Jobb in Hungarian, Siniob in Romanian / it now belongs to Romania).

Anyway, the right arm was divided among European noblemen, part of the upper arm went to Ukraine, while the intact right hand was taken to the aforementioned monastery (by abbott Mercurius) in the town of Szent Jobb / Holy Right (county Bihar in Transylvania, former part of the Hungarian kingdom, where the Magyar tribes first settled in 896).

Later, around 1241 the relic was taken to Ragusa (Dubrovnik, Croatia) to the Dominican monks in order to protect it from the barbaric Tartar invaders. The monks made a little glass container for the relic and protected it for centuries.

In the 18th century the Austro-Hungarian empress, Maria Theresa got it back from Ragusa (Dubrovnik, Croatia), and the relic was placed in the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna (the summer home of the Hapsburg’s). The empress made a couple of improvements for the relic holder and then sent it back to the parish of the Royal Palace in the Buda Castle in 1771.

St Stephen's Holy Right in Budapest Basilica

St Stephen’s Holy Right in Budapest Basilica (photo: AtlasObscura)

In 1862 the Hungarian bishopric had a new silver and glass reliquary made in neo-Gothic style, modelling the Matthias Church in the Buda Castle.

However, towards the end of the WW2, the Holy Right was rushed back to Austria and hid in a cave (kept by the archbishop of Salzburg). Finally, on August 20, 1945, Pater Fabian Flynn from the American army brought back the Holy Right hand again from Austria to the Hungarian state. At that time the neo-Gothic relic case was thought to be lost in the world war. But a young priest happened upon the reliquary and hid it in his home.

Holy Right Processions in Budapest, Hungary

Holy Right processions on Aug 20 in Budapest, Hungary

Holy Right processions on Aug 20 in Budapest, Hungary (photo: Magyar Kurir)

Between 1945 and 1989 the Holy Right was hidden and preserved, as the communist regime forbid the Holy Right processions. In 1950 the Holy Right moved to the St Stephen’s Basilica.

After the change of regime in 1989, the Holy Right (Szent Jobb) processions regained their former grandeur and attracted thousands and thousands of Hungarians to show their reverence.