Saint Ladislaus IV
Ladislaus’ holiness. Legend and history
„…qui operatus est iustitiam”
“Who was righteous is his life”
(Hymn of St Ladislaus, around 1192)
Saint Ladislaus’ character is a synergy of the powerful ruler enforcing laws, the heroic protector of his people and the holy man empowering Christians through his faith. His coronation in 1077 marks the end of the succession disputes, which were sparked off following Saint Stephen’s death. Public security and the protection of public property increased, the country started to develop, which led to the proliferation of the church in medieval Hungary.
“When the Hungarians heard that king Magnus (Géza I) had died, the multitude gathered around his younger brother Ladislaus and with one accord proclaimed him king, or to be more specific, compelled him through fervent and insistent petitioning. They all recognized that he was endowed with the perfect virtues, he was a Catholic, notably merciful, a generous giver, compassionate, (…) a light shining amongst his people” (Chronicon Pictum).
Whenever he had the chance, Saint Ladislaus withdrew to pray. Legends attesting his deeds reveal the efficacy of his prayers: a rock splits in two to protect him from enemies; herds of deer and cattle appeared in order for him to feed his army, he drew water from a rock; the enemy’s money turned into stone; Saint Ladislaus’ herb cured illnesses. “He fasted and prayed incessantly, he sorrowed for the sins of his people and offered himself to God as a living sacrifice. At times when he spent the whole night awake in prayer, he did not long for soft pillows but rather rested for a short while inside the church. One night he went to the monastery of Várad to pray, as usual. While he was in prayer, his footman, who was outside got tired of waiting and peeked inside. He saw his master in a glorious body lifted up into the air” (Saint Ladislaus legend).
The reports of his mighty deeds spread far beyond borders, he was considered the incarnation of the medieval ideal of chivalry and his holiness set an example not only to the Hungarians but to all European nations.
“He didn’t aspire to become king: he treated the regalia with due respect, however as a king he did not seek after being the first but he sought after being of use” (Saint Ladislaus legend).
The repeated attacks of the Cumans made him strengthen the kingdom’s borders. He brought new settlers to depopulated areas, he consolidated the structures of the public administration in the east, thus creating a unified country. Together with Coloman, his successor they introduced a system of local administration based on counties and concurrently renewed the church. Cathedrals, monasteries and chapters received a significant amount of property and new churches were established. Benedictine monasteries were established in Báta, near Szentjobb in Tolna County, as well as in Kolos in Nyirta County, and an impressive monastery was built in Somogyvár for French Benedictines. Ladislaus gave generously to the bishoprics as well: the construction of the cathedral in Vác was completed, new cathedrals were built in Oradea and Alba Iulia, and the archdiocese of Kalocsa was restructured. During his reign, he reorganized and consolidated the administration of justice. Family feuds lasting for decades and other internal conflicts had caused the weakening of the binding force of laws. Theft and loose morals had gained ground. Saint Ladislaus, who “made every judgement in the fear of God” (Chronicon Pictum) could not tolerate this. As a result, in Pannonhalma, in the presence of priests and magnates of the kingdom he promulgated draconian laws in order to defend private property. If one had stolen something which was worth more than a hen, the person was hung. The provisions of the synod of Szabolcs contained a number of dispositions concerning the church: it made provisions for ecclesiastical property, prohibited marriage to priests, prescribed the observation of fasts and feasts and punished practitioners of pagan customs.
Ladislaus ruled with a strict hand, however his hospitality was well known. Many royal descendant found shelter in his court, especially in the time of persecution. He had Géza’s two sons, Coloman and Álmos, as well as Endre I’s son, David educated in his court. His commitment to the church and his people also manifested in the canonization of Stephen, Emeric and Gerard, in 1083. The greatest significance of the event, which moved large crowds was that the Hungarian people were provided role models from their midst. Saint Ladislaus was a pious king, protector of the orphans, the defenceless and the oppressed, merciful and patient with his enemies.