Saint Ladislaus VI
The cult of Saint Ladislaus
„Hunnicae plebis dulcis patrone”
“The sweet protection of Hungary”
(Song on St. Ladislaus around 1470)
The cult of Saint Ladislaus developed not long after his death. He was canonized in the heart of the people long before he was canonized by the church. The news of pilgrims visiting his shrine being miraculously healed and consoled spread fast, and even more people were drawn to Oradea. The Gothic cathedral of Oradea with apsidal chapels, consecrated in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary became one of the greatest and most beautiful cathedrals in the Carpathian Basin. By means of papal privileges, by 1401, the cathedral had become one of the greatest pilgrimage centres in Europe, raising to the rank of the Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice and the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi. Historians attribute this achievement to the Angevin kings’ ascension to the throne. With the reign of Charles I, minted gold coins depicting King Saint Ladislaus started to circulate across Europe until the middle of the 16th century. The Saint Ladislaus motif, symbolizing a righteous ruler, also appeared on Mary, Queen of Hungary’s royal seal.
Many rulers wished to rest at the feet of Saint Ladislaus and chose Várad as their final resting place: King Stephen II, Beatrice of Luxembourg, Charles I’s wife, Mary, Queen of Hungary and her husband, Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary and Bohemia and German-Roman emperor. It had become customary to judge major lawsuits at the grave of Saint Ladislaus, to make an oath by placing the hand on his head, and according to the Register of Várad the ordeal by hot iron was also used. The legend describes a lawsuit between a soldier and a count. The count accused the soldier of stealing a silver cup that he wanted to sell. The cup was placed on Saint Ladislaus’ shrine. When trying to take the cup, the count dropped dead as divine judgement favoured the just.
The fact that in 1334 the synod was held in Várad also attests to the important role the episcopal see had at the time. Taking all these into consideration, the church took formal steps and King Ladislaus was canonized in 1192 by Pope Celestine III, at the urge of King Béla III. The cult of King Ladislaus continued to increase. Some say that it has even surpassed that of Saint Stephen. In medieval Europe, his bones were considered relics of excelling value. The most important element, the skull, as well as the bones of the arms and legs were most probably separated from the body at his canonization and placed in body-part reliquaries. In the 13th century, with the intensification of the cult, other body parts were removed from the grave and his sarcophagus, containing the remaining bones, was placed in a shrine within a baldachin of white marble. The miracle-working relics of Saint Ladislaus were dispersed across Europe. Besides Hungary these can be found in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Aachen and Bologna.
The third most important national relic, Saint Ladislaus’ skull had seen many locations throughout centuries. The first head reliquary was destroyed in a fire during the Middle Ages and was replaced by a second, bust-shaped reliquary. According to more recent studies, placing the skull into the second reliquary during the time of Sigismund, is attributable to Bishop Andrea Scolari. The relic had to be taken out of Várad during the rise of Protestantism. The third herm, which can be seen in Oradea today, was made by István Fülöp Link and contains a fragment of the skull in Győr. The reliquary was made in the 19th century, at the behest of Bishop Lőrinc Schlauch in order to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Saint Ladislaus’ canonization. The skull fragment in the 17th century casket arrived to Várad in 1776 as a donation from Ferenc Zichy, Bishop of Győr, on the occasion of completing the construction of the Baroque cathedral.
Saint Ladislaus’ figure was depicted in the miniatures of many medieval chronicles, such as the Chronicon Pictum, the Buda Chronicle or the Anjou legendary and at the same time about half a hundred instances were found of his figure painted in medieval churches on Hungarian-speaking territories. In Bihor County, the church restoration works, which commenced after the regime change, have uncovered Saint Ladislaus representations on frescos hidden under white wall paint in the Reformed churches (dating from medieval times) of Remetea, Sălard and Tileagd.