Within Budapest the cult of Saint Ladislaus is clearly strongest in Kőbánya. The king rules in the second half of the 11th century and was canonised in 1192. The cult of the venerated knight king began in the area with the dedication of the Saint Ladislaus church on 27 June 1900.
When the City Council had accepted the recommendation made by Parish Priest Károly Benedikovics to dedicate the church to Saint Ladislaus in 1895, no other parish church had been named after the king in the capital. (The Saint Ladislaus Church dedicated in 1860 on Sváb-hill was only elevated to a parish church in 1968.) The stunning church by Ödön lechner in an eclectic Art Nouveau style was well suited to make up for this shortcoming.
The statue of King Ladislaus by Károly Antal, was erected on the square that bears the king's name in 1940 (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
A statue of the King was erected before the church in 1940. Prior to this, as the country prepared to celebrate th 900th anniversary of his birth, a plan to rename Kőbánya Szentlászlóváros ('Saint Ladislaus Town') was floated by finally rejected by the Budapest City Council. The statue of the king was erected in the district almost as compensation.
A design tender was announced for the statue, which was one by Károly Antal. Born in 1909, Károly Antal had also created the Friar Julian Memorial in Buda Castle. The statue of the medieval figure who had set out to find the origins of the Hungarians may have served as a good reference in the eyes of the judges.
Several of the sculptor's works can also be connected to the statue of Friar Julian. The statue of Sándor Kőrösi Csoma, erected in 1942, and another of the same figure erected in 1968 in Pécs. His reproduction of a medieval statue fragment, erected near the Fehérvár Rondell in Buda Castle is another of his better known works.
The statue of Saint Ladislaus and its surroundings in Kőbánya (photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
However, the first plans submitted by Károly Antal were rejected, as they were deemed too modern. The sculptor was forced to creaet a new design. In the 22 October 1940 issue of Magyar Lapok the artist described the process: "I had to consider several aspects when designing the statue. The wishes of the commissioners, which are not always the same as the ideas of the artist, iconography and of course the material. i believe the statue meets these requirements well. The statue was carved from Rușchița marble, the large and strong figure of the kings stands in a closed composition, as required by both the solemn setting and the material. His glance is strong and masculine, his muscular hand rests on his miraculous axe."
The statue carved of Rușchița marble (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
The statue by Károly Antal thus depicts another side of Saint Ladislaus than that most common in Hungarian traditions. The well-known image of a dynamic knight-king, riding into battle on horseback is replaced with an idol-like patron of supernatural traits and calm. A patron saint set to calm posterity. His compulsory attribute, his axe that once drew water rests peacefully at his feet. His figure is tall a masculine, a symbol of the strength of the Kings of the Árpád Dynasty.The pedestal shows reliefs depicting scenes form the king's life (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
The front side of the pedestal bears the years of Saint Ladislaus's reign, while scenes from his legend are depicted on the sides. One illustrates the famous scene in which the King fights a Cuman foe, the other when the king was elected to lead the first crusade. (While part of the legend, the King had in fact died before the Council of Clermont and was thus never chosen to lead the crusade.) The first verse of the hymn Song of Saint Ladislaus from the Peer Codex is engraved on the back of the pedestal.
Relief on the statue's pedestal (Photo: Both Balázs/pestbuda.hu)
The statue of the knight-saint was unvelied on 22 September 1940. The event was given extra flare by the fact that the city of Saint Ladislaus, Nagyvárad (Oradea, Romania) had been returned to Hungary just a few days earlier as a result of the Second Vienna Award. István Antal a secretary of state and Orbán Dongó gave speeches. Károly Szendy, Mayor of Budapest accepted the statue in the name of the capital.
The first verse of a medieval hymn to the saint on the back of the pedestal (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
At the time the press emphasised that the statue faces eastward. There may have been a degree of actualisation in these observations, on the eve of Hungary's entry into World War II. Eventually, the conflict would be decided on the snowy plains of the east, and lead the country into a time, when little was said of Saint Ladislaus.
Nevertheless, the outstanding statue by Károly antal has survived, and stands proud to the present day on the main square of Kőbánya, and projects peace and strength to bystanders in the 21st century as well.
Cover photo: Statue of King St. Laszlo in Kőbánya (Photo: Both Balázs/pestbuda.hu)