The Holy Right Hand is a Hungarian national and Catholic relic, which is believed to be the naturally mummified right hand of Stephen I, first king of Hungary, referred also as St. Stephen.
St. Stephen (in Hungarian Szent István) was born around 970-975 in Esztergom. He was a member of the Árpád dynasty, born a pagan but was baptized as a Christian. In 996, he married Gisela of Bavaria, sister of the future Holy Roman emperor, Henry II. After the death of his father, Grand Prince Géza, Stephen combated an insurrection led by his cousin, Koppány, who claimed the throne in accordance with Árpád succession rules. After defeating Koppány, Stephen was crowned as (the first) king of Hungary with a crown received from Pope Sylvester II.
His coronation took place around 1021 years ago, on Christmas Day in 1000 and it signified Hungary’s entry into the family of European Christian nations. Stephen treated the church as the principal pillar of his authority, dispatching missionaries throughout his realm, founding bishoprics and abbeys and making the building of churches mandatory. He died in 1038 and became Hungary’s patron saint.
The king’s naturally mummified right hand is one of the most significant Hungarian national relics, found when his stone grave was opened on August 20th, 1083, in Székesfehérvár. (The identification mark of the right hand was the king’s ring, which adorned the hand.) The relic saw a few adventures in its time. During the Turkish occupation, it ended up in Ragusa (today: Dubrovnik, Croatia), where it was guarded by Dominican friars, attracting a growing number of pilgrims to the city.
Queen Maria Theresa (1717–1780), late successor of St. Stephen on the Hungarian throne, negotiated the return of the Holy Right Hand in 1771, offering to the historical city of Ragusa her protection against the threat of Russian invasion in return. In her charter decree, she set out how the relic, St. Stephen’s mummified hand is to be respected throughout the country.
During World War II, the Holy Right Hand was concealed – similarly to the coronation jewels – near Salzburg, in Austria. The relic arrived back to Hungary in 1945, and it has been on display in Saint Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest since 1987.
The charter issued by Queen Maria Theresa on 7th August, 1772 in Vienna is a parchment volume, sealed with the greater Hungarian secret seal and consists of 10 pages. It is kept by the National Archives of Hungary, in Budapest (under the reference code HU-MNL-OL – C 90 – № 11).
The record is showcased in the first thematic exhibition of the European Digital Treasures project, entitled Construction of Europe – History, Memory and Myth of Europeanness over 1000 years.
Written by Dorottya Szabó
Senior Archivist, National Archives of Hungary