A worldwide unique thing was left to us, Hungarians by our ancestors. A Eurasian rendering that completely expanded in the entire Carpathian Basin, what’s more in Italy’s certain territories too (Naples, Altomonte). This is nothing more than Saint Ladislaus’s legend with the maiden heist Cumanian. A complex symbolical system that had been painted in our temples and our codexes from the 13th century until the first half of the 15th century. Certain eastern elements of Steppean origin lasted in the ecclesiastical pattern treasure and the legend cycle consists of homogeneous, consistently recurring scenes. In the centre there is our Saint Ladislaus king, who served as a model to the incessantly battling Hungarians and Szeklers, and who with his faith and personality irradiated the Europe of the 11th century.
Our Europe-wide famous monarch had been an exemplary knightly model for the men for centuries and for the women the kidnapped girl might have given a moral model, who according to the murals, played an increasingly bigger role in the historical moment (the battle at Chiraleș or Dâmbul cu stejari), and with her changings she is an enigmatic protagonist of the symbol-group.
Inside the borders of the historical Hungary these murals can be found in great numbers in Szeklerland and in the Highlands (today’s Slovakia). Currently we can see this theme on the walls of our temples in 8 countries’ almost 70 localities. We find necessary the adequate levelled education; our goal is to captivate the younger generation and at the same time to call upon the scientific researchers too. We wish to worthily commemorate these forgotten emblems with this website, and we are trying to present the most recent, actual research results as well.
Several outstanding researchers starting already from the 1880’s (Huszka József, Nagy Géza), then after a bigger break from the 1980’s (like László Gyula, Jankovics Marcell, Kerny Terézia, Hoppál Mihály, Jánó Mihály, Jékely Zsombor) until 2008 finished the high-levelled elaboration of the murals, the publication of informative and scientific books, or enriched our history of art with outstanding studies.
The murals of the Saint Ladislaus legend have been analysed by many outstanding researchers from varied viewpoints. The pioneer of it was professor László Gyula, perhaps this theme might have got under his skin because due to his Szekler origin (he was born at Aldea, Udvarhelyszék) he knew very well our muralled temples. He was the one who in his book published in 1993, entitled The Medieval Murals of the Saint Ladislaus Legend systematically presented the murals known at that time, their significance, their system of symbols. He is the one, who surmised to discover eastern root in the depictions, he considered it a Eurasian pattern treasure, in which the battle of the light and darkness appears.
Jankovics Marcell issued his book (A Bright Star Among the Stars) concerning this theme earlier, in 1987 (then in 2006 again) but with the efficient help and proofreading service of professor László Gyula. Jankovics as a real symbol researcher draws interesting conclusions, among them that the murals preserve the memory of a real star myth. Certain details may even represent constellations, and in specified scenes we can see the personified figures of the cyclical natural forces (battle of light and darkness, the changing of seasons) and human virtues, fate features (love-death).
In Szeklerland it is Jánó Mihály who wrote a monography (Colours and Legends, 2008) about the research history of the murals. In his 2007 study he says, that the details of the legends and chronicles are closely linked to the murals. Such is for example the miracle of the Moldovan war mentioned in the Thuróczy Chronicle too, when our Saint Ladislaus king revives, and amidst the battle above his head appears the figure of the Blessed Virgin. According to Jánó Mihály (his garment, his mantle) emerges on the murals from Mugeni. The researcher draws interesting parallels with representations known in Western European art, like with the scene of the “offering of the heart”, which can be seen clearly on the murals at Chileni and Armășeni too. He also finds it important that the murals of the Saint Ladislaus legend are placed in the upper registers of the temples, and at the same time the Christian saints, martyrs or what’s more, scenes from Christ’s life follow the sequence of scenes of the Saint Ladislaus legend in an analogical succession.
Jékely Zsombor art historian finds the reason for the wide spreading of the murals in the propagandistic pursuits of the House of Anjou. For it is beyond dispute that most murals were painted under Charles Robert and Louis the Great. The soldier saint, the knight king of the House of Árpád was necessary for them, because through his glorification they could legitimize their own authority.
Vargyas Lajos and Hoppál Mihály in turn revealed the murals’ connection with the motifs traceable in the mythical heroic songs of the Inner Asian Turkish nations, their connection with the “táltos” traditions (wrestling of the shamans) and the maiden heist’s similarity to the ballad of Molnár Anna, and the Hungarian (eastern) characteristics of the motif of resting (looking in the head).
The historical background of the murals is the 1068 battle at Chiraleș (according to other specialized literature: the battle at the Dâmbul cu stejari) which was fought by our King Solomon and Prince Ladislaus against the invasive Úz-Pecheneg (the tradition calls them Cumanian) horsemen. Numerous medieval source commemorates the battle, Saint Ladislaus’s single combat with the maiden heist “Cumanian” and his victory:
“Prince Saint Ladislaus saw a pagan, who on his horse hauled with himself a beautiful Hungarian girl. Prince Saint Ladislaus thought that she is the daughter of the bishop of Oradea, and though he was severely injured, he promptly started to chase him on the back of his horse, whom he called Szög (Nail). Then when he approached him at a spear’s distance, he was getting nowhere, because his horse didn’t run faster, and the Cumanian’s horse wasn’t falling behind at all. Thus, there was like an arm’s length between the spear’s tip and the back of the Cumanian. So, Prince Saint Ladislaus yelled to the girl, saying: my beautiful sister, grab the Cumanian by his belt, and throw yourself down! She acted so. When he was lying on the ground Prince Saint Ladislaus wanted to pierce him with his spear at close. The girl then was asking him not to kill him, but to let him go freely… After this the saintly prince fought with the man for a long time, then cut his tendon, and killed him… But that girl wasn’t the girl of the bishop…”
(Chronicon pictum – “Illustrated Chronicle”, 1360)
The scenes of the murals painted in our temples are consistent with the stories of the Illustrated Chronicle, these scenes are: filing out (blessing), battle, chasing, wrestling, beheading, resting-looking in the head. Every scene has an important role, but the researchers did not find whole sequences everywhere. The murals of the Saint Ladislaus legend are a complex system of symbols, which unite the ancient Steppean, epic motifs and the world of ideas of the Christian saints. Furthermore, they are witnesses of a Hungarian legend, which in Europe show unequalled characteristics. That can’t be a coincidence either that out of 69 localities they paint it 41 times on the Northern wall of the temple, and in the registers, it is placed atop, that is the given community orders this theme foremost. Several eastern parallels can be drawn, which can be connected on several points with the scenes of the legend-cycle:
The Scythian iron mountings and beltbuckles dated between the 6th and the 1st century BC, found in the region of Altaj, show close parallels with the resting scene. On the iron mounting a warrior leans his head into the lap of a girl, behind him another warrior holds two horses. The girl is looking towards the other warrior. Likewise, Molnár Anna’s ballad in the Hungarian culture also includes the kidnapping of the lady and the resting scene. On the mural at Bántornya it is exactly the Cumanian who is resting in the lap of the girl before the fight! As an example, we can talk about the important roles of the trees of life, because as they appear behind the characters, their shape, their colour, their changings are consistent with the figures of Prince Ladislaus and the Cumanian. Even in the illustration of the Thuróczy Chronicle it is traceable the motif of the parching tree near the horse of the Cumanian, which at the same time represents the death of the Cumanian.
The wrestling scene (with trees of life, horses) on the brass iron mounting (dated around Christ’s birth) found in North China at the region of Ordos shows great similarity with the scene of the wrestling of Saint Ladislaus and the Cumanian. The wrestling of the shamans in animal forms is well known in the case of the Eurasian equestrian people as well as from the Hungarian ethnographic researches. It occurs on several murals too that the horses of the main heroes are fighting with each other too (Ghelința), their colours designate two qualities: the white one the light, the brown one the darkness. In Dârjiu still lives the vocal tradition, according to which it is actually the fight of the Light (Saint Ladislaus) and the Darkness (Cumanian) that unfolds.
On a Sogdian silver bowl found in Perm (Hermitage Museum, 7th-8th century) the fight of the immortals shows analogies with the details of the chasing scene. In the scene one of the heroes attacks with a spear, the other one shoots with a bow on his enemy, but none of them are hurt, the weapons break, they are invulnerable. The arrows showering towards Saint Ladislaus don’t hurt him either, and no matter that on several murals he pierces through the neck or the chest of the Cumanian (Kakaslomnic, Chilieni, Rimabánya, Ghelnița, Karaszkó), the fight continues. It is the fight of heroes and chosen ones, Prince Saint Ladislaus can win only after the cutting of the Achilles-tendon known in the ancient Greek and Steppean culture.
We can find a similarity too in the Saint George representations widely spread in Europe. Because the spear pierces through the enemy (the dragon) just like it pierces through the body of the Cumanian, and the dragon belches fire. On the murals (Dârjiu, Kakaslomnic, Crăciunel) it occurs that the Cumanian belches fire (or garbling?) too, which besides the reddish colours ephasizes the so-called diabolic features. In both stories occurs the kidnapping of the girl (princess) and then her resqueing. Our Saint Ladislaus king’s and Saint George’s horse is white too, both receive celestial help in the form of angel, the Blessed Virgin or consecrated weapon. The known explanation of the Saint George legend is the battle between the light and the darkness, and at the same time the eternal gyre of the time’s wheel, the beginning of a new Spring.