Martinsberg, or PANNONHALMA, an important Benedictine abbey in Hungary, about fourteen English miles south of Raab, and sixty west of Buda-Pesth. From an early date the place was traditionally regarded as the scene of the birth and early life of the famous St. Martin of Tours and was held in great veneration by the small Christian population of Hungary. Towards the end of the tenth century the Benedictine monastery was begun by Duke Geysa, and completed by his more celebrated son, St. Stephen, the king. The second Sunday of October, 1001, witnessed the dedication of the church. The site is a pleasant one on a high plateau with extensive views to the north and east, and occupies the ground once covered by a strongly fortified Roman encampment. Almost uninterruptedly from that date the “Holy Mountain of Hungary“, as it came to be called, has been the center of all that is best in the religious and intellectual life of the kingdom. The first Christian school established in Hungary, it soon attracted large numbers of students; popes and kings increased and guaranteed its possessions, and owing to its strongly fortified position it escaped destruction more than once when all around was ruined. The Tartar invasion left it unscathed. It was less fortunate under Archabbot Matthew, who died in 1584, during the disastrous five years in which the Turks were masters of Hungary, though it escaped annihilation till the fall of its fortress in 1594, when the community was scattered. The younger monks were received into various Austrian monasteries and the valuable archives were saved from destruction. It was not till peace was fully restored in 1683 that St. Martin‘s Abbey rose from its ashes, the only house of the fifty which had belonged to the Benedictine Order in medieval Hungary. Its schools were reopened in 1724 and flourished till the days of Joseph II, “the Sacristan” (1780-86), whose narrowmindedness could not leave untouched so vigorous a center of religious feeling and Hungarian sentiment and language.
The eclipse of Martinsberg lasted about sixteen years. In 1802, on March 12, the abbey and its colleges were reopened in deference to the general desire of the nation, and an archabbot was appointed in the person of Dom Chrysostom Novak. Since that time the fortunes of the community have prospered. The abbey and church have been rebuilt in the Italian style, and form an imposing group of buildings. The house is the central home of all the monks of the Hungarian congregation; its superior, the archabbot, is a prelate “nullius”, immediately subject to the Holy See, Ordinary of the Diocese, perpetual President of the Benedictine Congregation of Hungary, and a member of the House of Magnates of the kingdom. Subject to his government, besides the actual community at Martinsberg, are the abbeys of St. Maurice and Companions at Bakonybel, of St. Anian at Tihany, of St. Mary at Doemelk, and St. Hadrian at Zalavar, and six residences, with colleges attached, in various parts of the kingdom; Gyor with 448 students, Sopron with 345, Estergom with 366, and three minor gymnasia; Koszeg with 208, Komarom with 144, and Papa with 157 students. The entire congregation of Hungarian Benedictines numbers about 160 priests, with some 40 or 50 clerics and novices. The congregation administers also in 26 incorporated parishes, with seventy-five daughter churches and forty-four chapels; serving a population of nearly 18,000 souls; it has the supervision besides of five convents of nuns; its high schools, “gymnasia majora” are attended by about 1200 boys, its lesser seminaries by over 500. The monks of St. Martin‘s have contributed largely to the modern theological, scientific and historical literature of their country, and have given many distinguished men to the Church. Cardinal Claud Vaszary, Archbishop of Gran, and Bishop Kohl, his auxiliary, are perhaps the best known representatives of the Hungarian Benedictines at the present day.
JOHN GILBERT DOLAN