Photo: Hallabalint

Pannonhalma is in western Hungary, 20 km from Győr. Pannonhalma (meaning: “the pile/hill of Pannon”) is the most famous Archabbey in Hungary now. Its old name was Győrszentmárton. The abbey of Pannonhalma has the second largest area in the world, after the one in Monte Cassino. The Benedictine monks of its famous fortified abbey had their share of fighting against the  Turks in the 16th-17th century. The Benedictine Cloister dates back to 996 AD. The good monks were invited to Hungary by Chief Géza, the father of Saint István. The monks settled on the top of Saint Márton (Martin) Hill, a 282-meter-high hill in the village that stood on the site of the ancient Roman town called Civitas Pannonia. 

Photo: Civertan

The legend of Saint Martin

Saint Martin of Tours (316 or 336 A.D. – 397 A.D.) was born in Pannonia, his birthplace is said to be in Szombathely (Savaria). 

The church at his birthplace in Szombathely, Hungary (Photo: Pan Peter12)

He was a Roman commander, passing through a city in present-day Hungary when he saw an old man freezing in the dark. He took off his robe, cut it in half, and wrapped it around the old man. That night he had a dream, and Christ was sitting on his throne, wearing his robe… The robe that he had given to the old man… And an angel asked Christ, where did you get that robe? And Christ answered… It was given to me by my friend Martin… He became a Christian, and he had quite a history of doing good and amazing things… he ended up as the bishop of Tours, France.

St. Martin on the gate of Pannonhalma Abbey (Photo: Balla Béla)

Right from the beginning of its construction, the Abbey was protected by a wall. It was King Saint István of Hungary who completed the construction of the abbey. According to the records, at the Mongolian invasion in 1241, it was Abbot Oros or Urias who began reconstructions in the castle but he could not complete them in time. Benedictine tradition says that 40 monks were able to repel the Mongolians’ attack, though. We will see during the Ottoman wars that the Hungarian monks were not less fierce warriors than the Irish, the Germans, or the Chinese.

Winemaking started in the Pannonhalma-Sokoróalja region with the good monks. In 1486 the abbey was reconstructed under King Matthias Corvinus in the Gothic style. Shortly after this, King Ulászló II became the owner of Pannonhalma but he gifted it to his scribe, Tolnai Máté in 1500. (Please note, I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The monastery became an archabbey in 1541. The original fortifications were built in 1569 as a result of incursions into Western Hungary by the Ottoman Turks. These defenses were considered “temporary” structures at that time but more and more of them had to be built. It was the Italian military architect G. Turco who described the castle in 1569. According to his report, the fortified abbey was surrounded by two skirts of 2-meter-wide walls, that were separated by 10 meters from each other. The outer walls had six pentagonal small towers and a square tower that was supplied with a drawbridge. The whole castle was surrounded by a moat.

Picture: Thaler Tamás

The area remained a moving frontier between the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire for the following 140 years and the town suffered considerable damage during this time. During this time, the monks, however, had to abandon the abbey for shorter or longer periods. It is recorded that sometimes the monks had to take out their swords against the Turks so they had to be decent swordsmen, as well.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

There was a fire in the castle that was caused by careless guards in 1575, most of the houses and the roof of the church perished in it. Only later were they able to start the reconstruction of the damaged buildings, the renovation was carried out by Suess Orbán.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

The monks had to flee from there in 1586 and the run-down castle fell into the hands of Imperial soldiers. Soon, they were beaten out by Pasha Sinan in 1594 but the Ottomans were driven out three years later by the commander of Archduke Maximilian, a soldier called Brestein who took the castle with his 5,000 troops.  You can read more about this here:

After the Treaty of Zsitvatorok that marked the end of the 15-Year War in 1606, the church regained Pannonhalma. We can find Benedictine monks there again in 1638. The settlement below the fort was destroyed by the Turks in the first part of the 17th century but the Abbot Márton Rummer resettled it with new inhabitants in 1689.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

We must mention that the Turks captured the castle for a short time in 1683 as well. Chief Abbot Karbert Egyed had the castle’s palisade walls repaired in 1699 and had a bastion built for cannons inside the castle. However, the monks proved to be rebels during the anti-Habsburg War of Independence of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II which was finished in 1711. The monks arrested and imprisoned their Chief Abbot Karbert who died in the prison. 

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

During the time of Archabbot Sajghó Benedek (a former rebel captain of Rákóczi), major Baroque construction was in progress in the monastery between 1722 and 1768. It was a monk called Witwer Márton who supervised the work. From the time of its founding, this monastic community has promoted culture throughout central Europe. Its 1,000-year history can be seen in the succession of architectural styles of the monastic buildings (the oldest dating from 1224), which still today house a school and the monastic community.

Photo: Szöllősi Gábor

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Here are more pictures of Pannonhalma: