Saint Ladislaus IIi

Founding the bishopric of Várad

„…oppidum fundavit, Varadinumque iussit apellari.”
founded a town and named it Várad”
(Buda Chronicle 1473)

Saint Ladislaus had the more than 900 year old bishopric of Oradea built at the end of the 11th century, on the missionary bishopric of Bihar, which was already operating in the heart of the duchy. Archaeological excavations in the fortress also prove that on the turn of the 9th century there was a settlement on the left bank of the Sebes-Körös river, where the fortress is today. Nonetheless, the first Romanesque cathedral of Várad can most certainly be attributed to Saint Ladislaus. Little is known about its origin and early years. The traditional date given for its foundation is 1092, however this anniversary might have been inspired by the canonisation of Saint Ladislaus in 1192 and the end of the Turkish rule in 1692. Várad, hiding in an oak grove in the wetland area between the Sebes-Körös and Hévjó (now Peța) rivers, has developed into a spiritual centre in two stages. The Saint Ladislaus legend written around 1200 and other sources emphasize that he first founded a provostship of 24 canons, prior to his coronation, when he was still duke of Bihar and this became a bishopric in the second half of his reign. He also gave instructions to be buried here after his death. The cathedral was not completed at the time of the premature and unexpected death of Saint Ladislaus in 1095. Construction work continued during the time of Coloman the Learned and Stephen II, however the synod of Várad in 1134 was most probably held in the new cathedral.

Sources do not speak of any modifications until 1342. It was Bishop András Báthori (1329-1345), educated in Italy, who commenced the extension of the cathedral: “he started a new house, larger in size and more beautiful to the eye” (Statutes of the chapter of Várad). The result was a three nave Gothic cathedral, as represented in illustrations, with four towers and surrounded by apsidal chapels. It served as one of the most important places of worship also in the time of the Angevin kings and Sigismund of Luxembourg. It was one of the most significant centres of Hungarian Gothic and Early Renaissance ecclesiastical art, featuring half a hundred altars and royal tombs, including Saint Ladislaus’ white marble baldachin and the ornate shrines of Maria of Anjou and Sigismund of Luxembourg, the only Roman-German emperor buried outside the territory of the empire; as well as statues of Saint Stephen, Saint Emeric and Saint Ladislaus. Due to the excellence of Márton and György, the siblings from Cluj, the mighty bronze equestrian statue of Saint Ladislaus was raised in front of the cathedral much earlier than other medieval works of public art in Europe.

The 70-year period of decay in the life of the cathedral started in 1557 with the Protestant Reformation. Stirred-up crowds vandalised the church and looted the tombs and the altars. In 1618, Gabriel Bethlen, Prince of Transylvania demolished the ruins of the cathedral and used the stones for the construction of the princely palace and the Renaissance bastions of the fortress. The Roman Catholic Church banished him from Saint Ladislaus’ town for a period of 135 years.