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 Salamanca, Spain: Stonemasons’ soaring work pays homage to patron saint

Saint Stephen earned the honor of serving as the patron saint of stonemasons the hard way. An early convert from Judaism to Christianity, Stephen traditionally is regarded as the first of the faithful to be martyred for his beliefs in the Holy Trinity. He was stoned to death for his alleged blasphemy, so he often is depicted bearing a trinity of stones.

But the stonemasons constructing the Dominican church and adjoining cloisters in Salamanca over a century or two beginning in the 1500s created a monumental tribute to their patron saint. His massive church stretches 275 feet in length and rises more than half that high at the transept. Primarily Gothic on the interior, the church’s façade reflects the Plateresque detailing in vogue at the time of its completion.

And, given that we are always on the lookout for our hometown saint…. Alas, an ancient statue of Saint Anthony has lost something major. While Baby Jesus rests safely in Saint Anthony’s hands on the façade of the church, inside he is missing. We don’t know how many hundreds of years ago the kidnapping occurred, but the shadow of the statue of the empty-handed patron saint of misplaced or stolen items seems attempting to follow the advice of the children’s chant imploring: “Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, turn around. I’ve lost something that can’t be found….”