Pentecost At Csí­ksomlyó - A Hungarian National Holiday?

Situated on a hill in the midst of the Csík valley in the heart of Szeklerland, the Franciscan order in the small village of Csíksomlyó hosts the largest annual pilgrimage in Central Europe. Regardless of their religious affiliation, three to four hundred thousand Hungarians gather to this southeastern fringe of the Carpathian Basin on every Pentecost Saturday in order to pay a visit to a five-hundred year old wooden statue of the chief patron of Hungarians and the protector of Szeklers, Holy Mary. Participation in this pilgrimage has been part of the annual cycle in the life of Szeklers for over four hundred years and without it, the year inevitably seems to be incomplete. Preparations are made early on and pilgrims from the nearby villages and cities gather under the flag of their parish chanting religious songs on their way to Csíksomlyó. Depending on the distance they have to cover, the journey for some pilgrims may last for 2-3 days. Besides Szeklers, members of the Hungarian diaspora join from all corners of the globe. For the Csángós of Moldova, the largest Hungarian diaspora in the region, this is a moment of encountering their lost Szekler culture and the occasion for reaffirming their Catholicism, their last historical tie to the Hungarian community.[1] Hungarian citizens organize their Transylvanian tours and visits to their twin-city or village at this time. Pentecost at Csíksomlyó is a crucial event in their cultural pilgrimage to the exotic Transylvania, the birthplace of major historical figures and the perceived ‘cradle of Hungarian civilization.’[2] Besides the high-ranking representatives of the Catholic and Reformed churches as well as of the Vatican, Hungarian and local leaders are also present: members of the Habsburg family, former and current government ministers of Hungary, Hungarian ambassadors and consuls as well as the Transylvanian Hungarian elite. Once gathered on the saddle between the hills of Small-Somlyó and Great-Somlyó, the mass seems colored in red, white and green. Gazing on the crowd, one sees traditional Hungarian outfits, 1848 garments of the Huszárs or white T-shirts on which under the black image of Greater Hungary the inscription adamantly demands ‘Death to Trianon!’ Besides the religious flags of the different parishes, the revolutionary banners of 1848 and St. Stephen’s coat of arms dominate the vista. Fluttering in the wind, the gigantic state flag of Hungary emerges from the wild green pine-forest transforming the Csik valley temporarily into a Hungarian national space.In the post-1989 period, the pilgrimage at Csíksomlyó has become a national festival that matches in importance Hungarian national holidays such as the commemoration of 1848 on March 15th or the name-day of St. Stephen on August 21st.[3] Since 1993, the mass itself has been transmitted live through satellite by Danube TV, a channel based in Hungary, as a result of which the number of individuals who have experienced this event over the course of the last decade has usually surpassed the actual number of the pilgrims. It should be noted that, although historically speaking, the pilgrimage has been primarily a religious event, Csíksomlyó today is more than a religious symbol or even the locus of national reunification where a dismantled nation for a moment undoes Trianon, the greatest tragedy in its history. As issues of concern for the whole Hungarian nation are addressed from the altar, the pilgrimage becomes a mirror reflecting fiery debates about Hungarian-Hungarian relations, issues of nationhood and national identity. Furthermore, if one envisages the nation as an ideological construct that is being constantly re-imagined and re-defined, Csíksomlyó can arguably be seen as a site of current reconstructions of Hungarian nationhood.The full significance of the pilgrimage in relation to current Hungarian affairs unravels itself when one takes into consideration the other social events that are organized around the pilgrimage. The traditional meeting between Danube TV and its viewers is one such event. Similar ones are the rock operas of Gábor Koltay, St. Stephen the King and The Crucified, performed in the Somlyó saddle in 2003 and 2005, respectively. Both works play significantly on Hungarian national myths and symbols and when performed in Csíksomlyó, they attracted hundreds of thousands of Hungarians. One more social event that has become traditionally associated with Csíksomlyó is the presentation of the Bocskai Award to individuals and organizations that have been deemed to have contributed greatly to the preservation of Hungarians anywhere in the world. The award is presented by the Bocskai Association – the Hungarian branch of the World Association of Hungarians. This society is a non-political organization concerned with social issues and with the integration of Transylvanian Hungarian organizations across the world. Though of apolitical bent, it rejects the policy of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania, which strives to secure rights for the Hungarian minority within the framework of European integration and the general democratization process in Eastern Europe. [4]A closer look at Csíksomlyó can bring significant contributions to the study of nationalism. On the one hand, the pilgrimage offers a window on the relation between religion and nationalism. Pilgrimage sites hosting miraculous paintings or statues of Mary or locations where the Mother of God is deemed to have appeared have been important centers of nation-building. One thinks of the Black Madonnas of Czestochowa, Poland, and Montserrat, Catalonia, or of Lourdes in France and Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, just to mention a few.[5] The inclusion of Csíksomlyó in the rank of such major places of pilgrimage would be more than warranted just as the result of the sheer number of participants. Moreover, the mainstream literature on pilgrimage sites as important centers of nationalist agitation or construction of national identity is not very encouraging, a fact which suggests that an entire field where nationalism manifests itself remains unexplored in scholarly literature. In her Lourdes, Ruth Harris, for example, mentions that the site of the apparitions emerged as a national scene as a result of the support given by Napoleon III, who used Lourdes to assure the support of the Catholics during his indecision over whether or not to back Italian efforts for independence and unification. Besides this laconic allusion, however, Harris remains silent about how the religious and the national met, for example. The same could be noted in relation to William A. Christian’s Person and God in a Spanish Valley, where except for an enumeration of the Spanish national shrines, one cannot find much about nationalism, national identity or nation-building.[6] The most eloquent works on the relation between pilgrimage sites and nationalism have been the recent works on Medjugorje.[7] However, the fact that these works are essentially concentrated on one location does provide one with a quite narrow understanding of the phenomena. In this sense, the study of Csíksomlyó can offer insight not only into debates focusing on contemporary Hungarian identity, but it can also expand our understanding of the perhaps understudied question of the relation between religion and nationalism.   ReferenceBax, Mart. Medjugorje: Religion, Politics, and Violence in Rural Bosnia. Amsterdam: VU Uitgeverij, 1995.Christian, William A. Person and God in a Spanish Valley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.Harris, Ruth. Lourdes. New York: Viking, 1999.Kürti, László. The Remote Borderland: Transylvania in the Hungarian Imagination. New York: State University of New York Press, 2001.Ramet, Pedro. “Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslavia,” In Religion and Nationalism in Soviet and East European Politics by Pedro Ramet, ed. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1989.Skrbis, Zlatko. “The Apparitions of the Virgin Mary of Medjugorje: The Convergence of Croation Nationalism and Her Apparitions,” Nations and Nationalism 11:3 (2005), 443-461.
[1] According to many scholars, the Csángós are essentially the descendants of Szeklers who had immigrated in several waves to Moldova during the past centuries. Although they are highly assimilated to the Romanian population, most of them retained their Catholic religion and some of them still speak an archaic version of Hungarian littered with Romanian words and grammatical constructions. They are increasingly concentrated in the county of Bacau, which borders the most Hungarian county, Harghita, in which Csíksomlyó is situated. Historically, the Csángós’ national belonging is highly disputed as both the Hungarian and Romanian nation attempts to claim them as their respective co-nationals.[2] László Kürti, The Remote Borderland: Transylvania in the Hungarian Imagination (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), 15.[3] In an interview prepared by the local television network, Csíki TV, Csíksomlyó has been identified as the greatest national festival of the Hungarians by poet István Csoóri, former president of the World Association of Hungarians, Szilveszter E. Vízi, President of the Hungarian Academy of Science, and the former editor-in-chief of the religious editorial office at Danube TV. See, Csíki TV, “Csíki Harangszó,” May 16, 2005. Additionally, János Martonyi , former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary and Dr. Pál Steiner, currently mayor of downtown Budapest have voiced similar ideas in their letters sent to the Editorial of Office of the local Hungarian-language newspaper, Hargita Népe (People of Harghita). See article entitled “Tokens of Pilgrimage” in May 16, 2005 issue of Hargita Népe.[4] For the purpose of this study, it is interesting to look at some of the awardees: László TÅ‘kés (1996), Danube TV (1996), and Viktor Orbán (2002), former PM of Hungary. The Szekler National Council, a political party that also rejects the DAHR policy on autonomy, has emerged recently and received the Bocskai Award in the first year of its existence, in 2004. See,[5] See Ruth Harris, Lourdes (New York: Viking, 1999), 134.[6] See William A. Christian, Person and God in a Spanish Valley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), 48-50;[7] See Mart Bax, Medjugorje: Religion, Politics, and Violence in Rural Bosnia (Amsterdam: VU Uitgeverij, 1995), Zlatko Skrbis, “The Apparitions of the Virgin Mary of Medjugorje: The Convergence of Croation Nationalism and Her Apparitions,” Nations and Nationalism 11:3 (2005), 443-461; Pedro Ramet, “Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslavia,” In Religion and Nationalism in Soviet and East European Politics by Pedro Ramet, ed. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1989.

by Zsuzsanna Magdo