The history of the place worship in Máriapócs
Máriapócs is the most famous and – at the same time – the mostly visited place of worship in Hungary. Máriapócs is the beloved spiritual centre of the Greek Catholic faithful of the Carpathian Basin and member of the “European Mary Network”. Our church that has won its fame through the weeping Blessed Virgin’s picture worthily is visited by 600.000-800.000 pilgrims and tourists each year.
The name of the village appears first in the early writings of the thirteenth century, without the prefix “Mary” as an estate of the Báthory family and a few centuries later, as an estate of the Károlyi family. The significance of the not-so-famous village begins in the year of 1696 in the tiny wooden church of the local Greek Catholic community.
One member of the congregation of Pócs, László Csigár undertakes - as a thanksgiving for his miraculous escape from the Turkish imprisonment – to have the Blessed Virgin’s picture painted which is an indispensable part of the iconostasis. The realizer of his noble intention was the local priest’s younger brother, István Papp, who painted the icon for six Hungarian Forint. We can see that it is needless to search a famous secular or church maecenas or creator either in the person of the costumer or the painter. During the Holy Liturgy on the 4th November 1696 the believers present noticed that teardrops are running abundantly from both eyes of the Blessed Virgin. The exceptional event filled the attendants with admiration. Throughout the next day’s crowds visited the church, among them were officials of the emperor, functionaries and people belong to the other churches. The weeping lasted for two weeks non-stop and with shorter breaks until 8th December. The Austrian general officer Count Corbelli visited the church with his followers in these days, examined the soundness of the picture and wiped off the running tears with a cloth himself. He had other people made the examination as well, among them were Lutheran and Calvinist believers too. The church examination were ordered by the Bishop of Eger and during the hearing the witnesses stated consentaneously that the weeping actually happened and they even made an oath. The oath and signed records draw our attention to a noteworthy circumstance. Among the subscribers we find protestant folks as well. It is an elevating and outstanding if we consider that it was not the period of peaceful ecumenical prayer-weeks that characterize our time when the church communities try to represent Christ in the world by helping each other. The record of the hearing can be found in the Hevenesi collection in The University of Budapest.
Although the news publication was rather underdeveloped that time the news of the miraculous events spread quickly reached the Court of Vienna soon. In this historical period the Austrian Kaiser and Hungarian King Leopold 1. effected by the events and greatly by the deepest wish of his wife Queen Consort Eleanor, ordered the weeping picture to be delivered to the imperial city. Regardless what a strong feeling the decision of the Kaiser arouses in us, since the picture did not even have time to get used to its weeping miracle among the faithful of Pócs who had suffered so much before, an important fact is worthy to mention in his defense. The emperor’s deed is not controlled by the cynicism of robbing that usually characterizes the occupiers, but by his deep connection to the Mother of God. A nice example is that he contributed the success of the Zenta battle - having sealed the faith of Turkish - to the intersession of the weeping Blessed Virgin of Pócs.
The picture of Pócs was carried in a festive march through county to Vienna. It arrived on 4th July 1679 and was deposited to its final place, to the Stephansdom of Vienna a few weeks later. The picture can still be found on the altar with marble baldachin in the southern aisle where it gains considerable respect even in these days. The pleasure of the Viennese became the deepest sadness of the people of Pócs, and of the nation. This painful feeling was worded by the famous Ferenc Rákóczi II. who compiled the damages suffered by our county into a list of complaints – addressed to the emperor – and one of the requests was that the they should return the picture of the weeping Blessed Mother. The request was not granted and also became motiveless from a certain aspect.
Copies were made of the icon brought to Vienna soon. Numerous copies can be found both in Hungary in the German speaking lands too. Such a copy replaced the original picture here in Máriapócs. Neither the original picture not the copies wept later but for the one that was brought to Pócs. The young parish-priest Mihály Papp was celebrating the morning service on first August 1715 when the chapelmaster noticed the weeping of the picture. The flooding of tears – lasting for hours on the 1st, 2nd and 5th, August were seen by some hundreds of people. During the days following the miraculous event the Bishop of Eger Gábor Antal Erdődy had the happenings examined officially. The record of the statements of witnesses authenticates the verity of the weeping definitely. Such a testimony can be found on the aisle wall of the devotional altar.
The next significant event of the place of Worship in Máriapócs was the third and last weeping of the devotional picture that started on 3rd December 1905. Frater Kelemen P. Gávris was leading a pilgrimage to the church. Upon opening the picture’s case he noticed that face of the Blessed Virgin was darker than usual and teardrops were falling from her right eye. This miraculous event lasted – with short breaks – until the last day of the year. The fact of weeping was examined by both church and secular boards and they stated the verity of the weeping. One of the silk clothes taking the teardrops can still be seen under the devotional picture.
Following the second weeping the wooden church was unable to admit the increasing number of pilgrims, so it became reasonable to build a new church. The construction was initiated by the Basilitan Superior Frater Gennadius György Bizánczy, then it was continued by Bishop Mánuel Mihály Oslavszky and also he started to build the present monastery. The actual church consecrated to the honour of Holy Michael was build between 1731 and 1756 in an early baroque style. The two towers with onion domes were completed in 1856 by heightening of the former towers. Despite the fact the towers were placed there so much later they found perfect harmony with the nave built earlier and it beams the peaceful beauty of God even in the form of the church in sight. The exterior of the church was renovated between 1893 and 1896 and later in 1991. A pair of towers on the Western façade and a round–arched chancel are connected to the interior extended with a one–aisle, arched transept. In the crypt under the transept Greek Catholic Bishops, priests, and donors are resting. The iconostasis was built between 1785 and 1788, the pictures were replaced by new ones in 1896. The devotional altar and the Saint Cross Altar were made of the last third of the 18th century. Then it was rebuilt at the end of the 19th century and 1945 together with the Great Saint Basil’s Altar that was made in the turn of the 18th and 19th century. It was the time when the devotional picture was removed from the iconostasis, and put in its present place. The church was painted with artistic pictures by József Boksay and Emmanuel Petrasovszki during 1944 and 1945. Pope Pius XII. awarded the title “basilica minor” to the devotional church of Máriapócs in 1948.
The outstanding day for Máriapócs and the history of the Hungarian Greek Catholic community was the 18th August 1991. Pope John Paul II. of happy memory visited Hungary that time and celebrated a Holy Liturgy in Byzantine rite in front of the devotional picture in Hungarian language, in the presence of hundred thousands of faithful people. In memory of this papal pilgrimage the basilica received a new bronze gate on which the leaders of our church and the impressive scenes of the visit can be seen.
The Hungarian Catholic Episcopacy pronounced on 1st December 2005 that Máriapócs is a National Place of Worship. The decree was announced by Cardinal and President of the Episcopacy dr. Péter Erdő –as special delegate of our Pope Benedict XVI. – in Máriapócs on 3rd December, then he dedicated our homeland and our church to the protection of the weeping Blessed Virgin of Máriapócs.
Mr. Cardinal placed a Golden Crown blessed by Pope Benedict onto the Glory on the renewed devotional picture during the Jubilee ceremony.
Our National Sanctuary has gone through a quite, monumental change in the last years. The church and thus the whole environment were renowned, by the help of donations, and a certain tender of the EU. Now we have all the icons, altars, as well the iconostasis renovated, a new geothermal heating system is made, every corner before our eyes, and unseen parts too renewed. The official re-opening happened in the last year on 11th September. That day remains one of the happiest and mesmerizing events for us by all the time.
In the history of Máriapócs this was the first chance to make a complete - inner and outer – restoration, and reparation. Now, we really are a modern European shrine, with beautiful traditions and most suitable features for the 21st century.