Spotlight on Budapest: Two part special on Gellert Hill and the Saint who was rolled down it to his death

Part 2: Who was Saint Gellert asks Kareem Korayem?

Though it has a relatively short history, Budapest is packed with interesting and informative stories which would make you look at Hungary in a whole new light. One of the stories that I find most interesting is the story of Saint Gellert.

Before we speak about the story of Saint Gellert we must look at the story of Hungary as a Christian nation. The seven Hungarian tribes moved westward into the Carpathian Basin. According to some historians this is because they were searching for wealthy provinces to ransack while according to others, the “barbaric” tribes were moving not towards the west, but away from the east to get away from the conflicts raging among other peoples, including the Mongolians.

The seven Hungarian tribes settled in the Carpathian Basin in around 900 AD, from here they carried out raids against the West as far as Milan in Italy. The Hungarians were fearsome warriors who would travel on horseback at lightning speed, surprising and crushing their enemies. Each soldier had at least 2-4 horses, the reason being that when the horse they were riding became exhausted from carrying its master, the rider would switch to another fresher horse. Also the horses could be used for food in dire situations.

The Hungarians were, like many other European peoples at the time, pagans. In the year 1000, King and Saint Stephen became the first king of Hungary. It is a common mistake to believe that King Stephen was the first Christian ruler of Hungary, but this is erroneous since his Father Geza converted to Christianity but did not take the conversion of the population seriously. But it was King Stephen who became the first true king acknowledged by the Vatican as a “Christian King”, the Vatican also sent him a crown as a symbol of his legitimate reign. Incidentally, the Crown is kept in the parliament building in Budapest.

In order for King Stephen to successfully convert the Hungarian pagans to Christianity he needed professional theological help. This help was to come from Bishop Gellert, who was later cannonized and made a saint for his sacrifice.

Saint Gellert arrived to preach and spread the word of the Bible and tried to abolish the old gods.  Eventually the pagan Hungarians grew tired of the man and his message, they stuffed him in a barrel filled with nails and tossed the barrel down what is now known as Gellert Hill, where a statue of the man now stands in his memory and honor.

According to some, the pagans were hostile to foreign ideas and to the idea of Christianity, which resulted in the murder of Saint Gellert. Others make the point that Christianity in the beggining spread the word of Christ through the sword and that Saint Gellert might have used the same tactics against the pagan Hungarians, which led them to take revenge and murder him in a fit of rage. Also, Pagans were not monotheistic, so they believed in multiple gods. There should be no reason why they would be against the emergence of a new god except if the representatives of that religion (Gellert) were abusing the pagan population

Either the Hungarian barbarians murdered a man of god in ignorance or the Hungarians were paying Saint Gellert back in kind for the treatment that he gave them. Either way, the story exists and the statue stands tall and magnificent today. There is not much point in arguing about the past and we all might as well climb the staircase leading to the statue and enjoy the view of the river and the Pest side of the city.