Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Home for Saint Stephen’s holy dexter

The right hand of the blessed man was deservedly exempt from putrefaction because, always reflourishing from the flower of kindness, it was never empty from giving gifts to nourish the poor.

Bishop Hartvic, Life of King Stephen of Hungary, about 1116

Construction of the Basilica of Saint Stephen in Budapest took more than 50 years because the original dome over the facility designed to accommodate up to 8,500 worshippers completely collapsed in 1868. During the intervening years, the desired style evolved from neo-classical to neo-renaissance by the time the church was inaugurated by Emperor Franz Josef in 1906. The dome is the same height as that of Parliament, and no buildings in the historic center are allowed to tower above them.

Saint Stephen (975-1038) is celebrated as the first king of Hungary. His royal coronation was held on the first day of the second millennium, and the crown itself was a gift from Pope Sylvester II. King Stephen’s later sainthood was merited for his commitment to crush paganism in Hungary and for miracles credited to his right hand, the holy dexter.

The incorrupt hand was stolen at one point, recovered, hidden by nuns and finally returned and honored with a public procession in 1938 and enshrinement in a chapel in the basilica. The annual procession of the mummified dexter was ended abruptly by the communists in 1950. Since 1988, the church has been free to parade it through the streets annually on his day, August 20.

The crown presented to King Stephen served as the coronation crown for all subsequent kings of Hungary, but, like the dexter, spent some time in hiding. It and some of the royal jewels were spirited away for safekeeping in the United States during World War II. They remained locked in Fort Knox until returned to the Hungarians by an order of President Jimmy Carter in 1978. The crown and jewels are displayed in the House of Parliament.

Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: Mexico’s first charro bestows blessings on travelers

At first glance, he doesn’t look very good. But you have to know the backstory. He didn’t die yesterday.

Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio was 98 when he died and was buried, briefly, for six months. And that was more than four centuries ago.

Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio is among the group of saints, or in his case almost-saints, whose bodies have withstood the normal ravages of time. God chose to leave their bodies incorrupt, or intact, and they remain on display for the faithful.

While San Sebastian de Aparicio seems handsome for a 500-year-old man, in his youth his beauty caused great problems for him. He was so “comely,” according to the website Roman Catholic Saints, “wicked women frequently set snares for his purity.” The pious 31-year-old finally fled the lascivious ladies of Spain and settled in Puebla.

Blessed Sebastian de Aparicio began making ploughs and wagons for the primitive farmers he found there, and he plowed fields at no charge. So produce could be moved around the country, he set about building roads. This included a 466-mile stretch connecting Zacatecas, where there happened to be a lot of silver, to Mexico City. His farming, ranching and transportation endeavors made him wealthy.

Taking pity upon a young girl whose parents could afford to pay no dowry, Sebastian finally married at age 60. After her death at a young age, he entered a second “virginal marriage,” according to American Catholic. (Try to avoid falling prey to skepticism at this point.)

Finding himself a widower again, he distributed his worldly goods to the poor, funded a convent and entered the Franciscan order at age 72.

He died in 1600, and miracles attributed to him began to multiply and accumulate. He was beatified in 1787, but he’s still on the waitlist for sainthood after all this time.

If you are traveling through Puebla, you should make a pilgrimage to his shrine in the Church of San Francisco, particularly if you are from Texas. Although Blessed San Sebastian de Aparacio might not be canonized, he’s regarded as particularly helpful in granting miracles to travelers and was Mexico’s, which included Texas, first cowboy.