Further dispatches from alternate Paris: Everyday relics

One of my favourite parts of my recent trip to Budapest was visiting the Szent Istvan (Saint Stephen) cathedral. It has all the usual things you want from a cathedral: mighty domes, art, towers, chapels, all that stuff.  



It also has, no fooling, a light-up coin-operated reliquary holding the right hand of Saint Stephen, the king who converted Hungary to Christianity. 

There are times when I really admire my ancestral faith’s love of showmanship.

But what I actually wanted to write about was the cathedral treasury museum. If you are ever in Budapest, you should definitely check it out — you have to pay to get in, but it costs something like HUF 400 (slightly over £1), so it’s pretty affordable. It might even be less. 

The cathedral treasury houses a lot of stuff about the history of the cathedral — the uniforms of the hand’s ceremonial guard, liturgical vestments, architects’ models, all that kind of thing. But fo me the most interesting part of it was the display dedicated to József Mindszenty. Mindszenty was Archbishop of Esztergom and a cardinal, a central figure in Catholic opposition to first Fascist and then Communist rule in Hungary. He was locked up by the government in 1949, got out during the 1956 revolution, sought political asylum in the US, and spent the next 15 years of his life in the American Embassy in Budapest. 

The Hungarian Catholic church, you will be surprised to hear, takes a pretty straightforward view of Mindszenty: he was a shining example of Catholic piety and he should be a saint. And the museum is unsubtle about it. Check out this sculpture of Mindszenty: 

I see what you did there.
I see what you did there.

Crucified on a hammer-and-sickle and a swastika, no less. 

The display cases include mementoes of Mindszenty’s career, tied up with actual red tape and labelled with for-real wax seals, in preparation for the day he gets canonised. 


Swanky, huh? 

But more interesting to me were the ordinary articles found in Mindszenty’s quarters at the time of his death. These are on the other side of the display, and unfortunately the photo I took isn’t as good. 


Nonetheless, I think you can see how ordinary the objects are — a bundle of ballpoint pens (a Hungarian invention!), some shirts, some books, cufflinks, all wrapped up ready to be relics. It’s an interesting view of the process of making history — the transformation of everyday objects into things that are both objects of religious inspiration and historical displays at the same time. 

Further dispatches from alternate Paris: Everyday relics

Dispatches from alternate Paris

– or, What I Did on  My Summer Vacation. 20140705_143625-EFFECTS This Saturday was my anniversary,  so my lovely wife and I packed a small bag each and headed for Budapest.  Because both our families live in the US, most of our big holidays are to visit them – or to see them when  they are elsewhere.  I think this was our first just-the-two-of-us foreign holiday since … well, I don’t remember. Now Budapest is lovely and you should go if you haven’t, but this post is not about that. It is about a strange effect that I experienced in Hungary. See, I know the following about Hungarian history:

  1. Jack.
  2. Shit.

That isn’t absolutely true — I did a little 20th century Hungary at university and I recently reviewed it for tutoring purposes. And I suppose I have picked up one or two details over the years. But in general, I haven’t got a lot of in depth knowledge. I thought I would remedy this by diving deep into the guidebooks this past week,  but work just kept me too tired and I never got around to it. But I didn’t let this change my usual approach to city-wandering, which is all landmarks, castles and museums all the time (not true; on Sunday we went to the zoo). So I would be standing there, looking up at the verdigrised countenance of a Very Important Hungarian Patriot gazing sternly into the distance and thinking “I have no idea who this guy is or what his deal was.” It was basically like being in Paris, but some weird alternate Paris in a world where I know nothing about French history. 20140705_144326   Eventually, I went to the Budapest History Museum (admission HUF 2000, and boy does living in Britain spoil you in that regard) and picked up enough of the basics to get by. It reminded me a little bit of my visits to Moscow or Oslo, although my grip of Russian history is sliiiiiightly better.  But there were definitely things in Moscow that were clearly Great Big Deals but that I didn’t recognise at all. I recognised Yuri Gagarin in Moscow, though; dude looks like the Rocketeer.  

Dispatches from alternate Paris