Virgin Mary, ornamented with wonders, of Csíksomlyó
Protect and help your Székely people!
Location of Csíksomlyó
The south-west basin of Csík is divided into two regions, Felcsík and Alcsík, by the hill of Nagysomlyó. At the foot of this hill, at the south corner of Felcsík lies Csíksomlyó.
The story of Csíksomlyó began between the 12th – 13th centuries. It was mentioned for the first time in the papal tax-collector records under the name of Sumbov in 1333, then as Sumlov in 1334.
The name Somlyó is of Turkish origin and it means pinewood.
Actually Csíksomlyó consists of the Pilgrimage Church, the Franciscan Monastery and the surrounding area.
Franciscans in Csíksomlyó
There is no exact data referring to the settlement of Franciscans in Csíksomlyó. Some historians put it in 1352, some in 1372 and others think it was later. According to P. Fortunát Boros we have documents stating the Franciscan presence dating back to October 29, 1400: “Pope Boniface IX gave permission to Alvernai Bertalan, his Bosniac vicar, to establish four Franciscan monasteries near to the Hungarian territory of Chichiense named after the Saviour. The Franciscans left this territory many times but they always returned.”
The Story of the Pilgrimage Church Csíksomlyó
The Gothic Church
We don’t know the exact date when the original church was built but we have information on the first reconstruction of the church between 1442 and 1448 due to Tatar invasion.
In that period a bigger Gothic church and a small Gothic monastery were constructed. János Hunyadi, voivode of Tran-sylvania, helped in the construction of the church in gratitude for winning the battle against the Turks in 1442.
It was consecrated in 1448 in honour of Sarlós Boldogasszony.
From 1440, the church and the monastery were surrounded by strong stonewalls. To this place the people of the region made their escape from the repeated invasions between the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Gothic church and monastery were restored and amplified several times between the 17th and 18th centuries. The structure that exists today was built between the years 1773 and 1779.
The Baroque Church
The church with its Gothic style existed until 1802; its material was built into the present Baroque church.
The construction of the Baroque Pilgrimage Church was started in 1804 according to the plan of the engineer Konstantin Schmidt. The furnishing was made by Miklós Papp, painter and sculptor from Brassó. The side altars were built at the beginning of the 19th century during the construction of the church.
The church was consecrated on the 20th August 1876 by Mihály Fogarassy, Transylvania’s bishop, and in 1948 Pope Pius XII raised it to the dignity of Basilica Minor.
The current church is 58 m long, the nave is 22 m and the sanctuary is 17 m
broad. The height of the nave is 18 m
and the tower up to the cross is 55 m.
The Façade of the Church
The entrance doors of the church were made in 1838 by Félix Názán. There are two stained-glass windows, on the windows above the main entrance; one devoted to Jesus and Mary’s name and the Franciscans’ shield can be found on the other window. The church was painted by Fülöp Urbanszky, painter from Kolozsvár, in 1911.
The statue of Virgin Mary on the façade of the church was made by Rothenbacher, a goldsmith from Brassó in 1837.
The Roman numbers in red add up the year 1830, the year when the towers of the church were finished.
SpLenDor ab eLIsIs CeLebri reDIt arte rVInIs aeDIbVs Oh Virgo gLorIa nostra tVIs.
(Ohh, Virgin Mary, our glory, your sanctuary is renewed from the scattered ruins through illustrious art.)
The Interior of the Pilgrimage Churh
The Painted Glass Windows
The stained-glass windows of the Pilgri-mage Church date back to 1905 and were made in the Czech Republic at Schlein Richard’s company. They represent the following saints: Saint Claire of Assisi, Saint John of Capistrano, Saint Joseph, Saint Margaret of Hungary, Saint Francis of Assisi, Princess Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Saint Emeric of Hungary and Saint Anthony of Padua. The windows representing Saint Cecilia and Saint Agnes can be found in the church choir.
The window representing Saint Francisco was a donation from Antal Fejér and his wife Margit Száva. Saint Cecilia’s window was donated by Istvánné Mélik from Gyergyóremete.
Entering the church on the left hand side one can find the tomb of Kelemen Mikes, the former governor-general from Háromszék. On the columns located in the vestibule, marble tablets cherish the memory of some of the appreciated monks:
P. Miklós Somlyai (1598 – 1661)
P. Kázmér Domokos (1606 – 1677)
P. János Kájoni (1629 – 1687)
P. István Görög (1631 – 1687)
P. Jukundián Simon (1813 – 1894)
P. Fidél Benedek (1907 – 1979)
P. János Écsy (1919 – 1982)
Furthermore there is a marble tablet commemorating the victorious battle against Zsigmond János’s troops and another marble tablet commemorates the reparations made after the earthquake in 1940.
The Altar of the Suffering Jesus
The Saint’s Tomb Altar - the Altar of the Suffering Jesus can be found under the choir. It was made in 1855, its donor is unknown.
The Saint Teresa statue was donated by Dr. Jenőné Hegyi from Budapest in 1933.
The Saint Joseph statue was made by Gábor Vágó in 1938 and it was a gift from Lajos Szopos.
The Altar of Saint John the Baptist
The altar of Saint John the Baptist was made in 1840 and it was a gift from János Lukács, a dealer from Csíkszerda, and his wife, Sára Mánya. The picture above represents Saint Sarah and the one below the altar represents Mary Magdalene.
The Altar of Saint John of Nepomuk
The altar of Saint John of Nepomuk was donated by János Botsántzi and his sons in 1935. It was made by Miklós Papp. The upper picture represents Mary´s visit to Elizabeth and the lower one depicts Saint Vendel in high priest’s clothing.
The Altar of Saint Anne
The altar of Saint Anne was made in 1839 and it was a donation from widow Mártonné Rakovszky and baron Anna Henter. It was made by Miklós Papp. In the upper picture Saint Apollonia can be seen and below the altar another picture represents Jesus’ birth.
The Altar of Saint Elizabeth
The Saint Elizabeth altar-piece was made in 1938. The altar was placed in the church by Bálint Ignác and his wife, Juliánna Bors in honour of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The picture of Saint Ignatius was changed for a picture representing Saint Elizabeth. The picture representing Saint Ignatius can be found in the church’s choir. The upper picture represents Saint Julia while the one below the altar is the representation of the last supper. These were constructed by Miklós Papp. The big, new picture was a donation of the Krauter family and it was painted by János Bulhárd.
The Altar of Saint Francis
The altar of Saint Francis was made in 1840. The upper picture representing Saint Nicholas was painted by Miklós Papp. The lower picture representing Saint Francis of Assisi was the creation of József Csűrös, painted in 1838 in Kolozsvár.
The Altar of Saint Anthony of Padua
The altar of St. Anthony was placed in the church in 1843 and it was donated by Antal Zakariás. The original main picture of the altar was donated to the chapel at Sófalva in 1931. However Sándor Szopos, an artist from Kolozsvár, painted the Saint Anthony altar seen today in the church. The upper picture represents Saint Bonaventure and it was painted by Miklós Papp.
The pulpit was made by the fine artist, Miklós Papp in 1835. On the side it has a relief representing the coming of the Holy Spirit and the four Evangelists. On the relief on the door, Moses is portrayed presenting God’s 10 commandments written on two slabs of stone. On the top of the pulpit the archangel Saint Michael can be seen.
Saint Margaret of Cortona
The altar of Saint Margaret of Cortona can be found in the sanctuary. The person, who placed it in the church and painted, is unknown.
The Triumphal Arch and the Sanctuary
The ceiling of the church was made of wood. On the arch there is a
cronosticon in Latin:
ECCe MarIa pIo rVtILant tVa teCta nItore, qVae tIbI FranCIsCI tVrba pVsILLa LoCat.
(There Maria your shelter built by Saint Francisco’s little flock shines with honour)
The capital letters, read as numbers, show the date of the building of the arch by József Erőss, artist from Kezdivásárhely in 1834.
The main altar and its background with the crown were built in 1848.
The stall from the sanctuary was a donation as the label on it attests: “I thank my ornamental existence to Sir Vitéz Huszár Kapitán Ignátz Bálint from Csíkszentgyörgy and his wife Juliánna Bors Nemes.” On its upper flange there is an icon of the Virgin Mary with angels. In the middle bishop Saint Augustine can be seen with one deacon at each side.
The Statue of the Virgin Mary
The most important creation of the Pilgrimage Church is the statue that represents the Virgin Mary.
This was made of linden wood in Renaissance style between the years 1510 and 1515. The artist who created it is unknown. Its height is 227 cm and it is the highest of all statues known in the world. It represents the Lady Dressed in the Sun who has the moon under her feet and a wreath made of twelve stars around her head. There is also a crown on her head, in her right hand a scepter, in her left arm her Holy Son, the baby Jesus. In 1798 it was recognized as miraculous by the bishop Ignác Batthyány and he gave her the following name: “Wonderful and helpful Mother in protecting against heretics”.
During the centuries many miracles happened with the statue. Several times it was shining so that its light filled the church.
In 1661 the church was ravaged by Tartars and Turks and it was set on fire. In a miraculous way the statue remained undamaged.
In the previous centuries, until the 1950s the baby Jesus used to be dressed. The colour of its dress changed according to the ecclesiastical liturgy.
On the right of the statue there are two statues. The one on the right represents King Saint Stephen and the one on the left represents Saint Ladislas. Both of them are 260 cm tall and were made in Grönd, in Tirol in 1905.
Many prayers were listened in the intercession of the Virgin Mary. The memory of this is kept on the metallic objects, the so called votive objects, on both sides of the statue of Mary. These were brought in by the believers as a sign of their gratitude as their prayers had been heard. The metallic objects representing hands, feet, hearts and other body parts date back to the 18th century and were made from different materials among them gold and silver. Several valuables were sold and the money was used in the construction of the present church. The marble tablets have been made since the 1940s are the evidence that the prayers have been heard.
The Doors of the Sacristy
The reliefs on the doors of the sacristy and the corridor were made by the artist Sándor Vincefi from Csíkszereda in 1980. The door of the sanctuary that open to the sacristy shows scenes from the history of Csíksomlyó and the door opening in the nave of the church represents scenes from the life of Saint Francis.
In the nave of the church, on the left hand side, on the stalls there are reliefs made by the artist László Imets from Csíkszereda in the 1980s. The reliefs represent Hungarian and Franciscan saints: Saint Elizabeth, Saint Margaret of Hungary, Saint Ladislaus I of Hungary, Saint Gerard Sagredo, Saint Emeric of Hungary, Saint Stephen I King of Hungary, Beatified Csáki Mór, Saint John of Capistrano, Saint Clare of Assisi, Saint Anthony and Saint Francisco.
The oldest organ was made by János Eperjesi in 1659. This was bought and built up by János Kájoni but it was burnt down by the Tartars and Turks in 1661. The burned organ was corrected and expanded by János Kájoni in 1664. This organ was replaced one made by István Kolonics in 1859.
The present organ was planned by József Geyer, professor of art of music from Budapest. It was finished in 1931 by the company called The Sons of Lipót Wegenstein using the cabinet and some parts of the pipe material from the organ made by Kolonics. The keyboard was brought from Germany. With its 40 varieties of solo and 2824 pipes, the organ is among the organs with the best resonance in the country.
The crypt was built in 1732 and expanded in 1838. In the crypt there are ashes of Franciscans, but long ago it was the burial place of laity benefactors of the monastery. Among the many illustrious Franciscans buried in the crypt there is Leonárd Losteiner (1744-1826), the historian of the Franciscan order. In the crypt under the chapel of Saint Michel, in the old church, Kelemen Mikes, governor of Háromszék, is buried. Its epitaph can be found at the entrance of the church on the left hand side.
Formerly there was a cemetery in the old church to the north and to the west of the entrance. The new church was partly built on this territory. The former stone cross from 1653 is still in its original place.
The original bells of the Pilgrimage Church were brought down in December 17, 1916 by the army to be made into cannons. The new bells were brought in 1924. The fi rst was made in honour of the Virgin Mary and it has the following inscription: “Mary from Somlyó ornamented with miracles, help and protect your Székely people”. The bell weighs 1133 kg.
The bell made to honour the Saint Heart of Jesus weighs 752.5 kg and the following can be read: “Godly heart of Jesus, during affl ictions lead on a celestial path the sons of Saint Francisc from Erdély.”
The third bell was made as a tribute to the memory of Saint Francisco weighs 339.5 kg and has the following inscription: “Our Father Saint Franscisc, great founder of the Franciscan order, pray for us.” The fourth bell that completes the carillon weighs 150.5 kg and honours the memory of Saint Anthony with the following epitaph: “Oh come to Saint Anthony those of you who crave for miracles.” The chord of the bells creates the following sound: C-E-G-C. The bells were tolled for the first time in June 6, 1924.
The Chapel of Saint John
The chapel was constructed in honour of Saint John of Nepomuk and was built by Imre Salamon in 1767. When they built the new church, the chapel of 4.44 m long and 3.27 m broad was transported to an empty place in front of the façade of the church.
Since the statue of Saint John on the new altar in the chapel was very old, it was replaced with a painting of Saint Elizabeth in 1928.
The Chapel of the Saviour
There is no exact data referring to its origin. It might have been built to remind of the victory of Nándorfehérvár. According to Losteiner Leonard: “Capistran and the Great Hunyadi called on the name of the Saviour for help in the battle on August 8 1456, the day of the transfiguration of the Redeemer, and they won.”
The single-naved, arched, rectangular medieval chapel was expanded around 1680 with the help of Kelemen Mikes, governor of Háromszék, and Sámuel Kálnoki, chancellor of Transylvania. The stave representing their coat-of-arms was built in the same period. The panels stuck to the ceiling represent figures and the west side-paneled gallery were painted in 1800.
The panels stuck to the ceiling contain a pair of saints in frames, composed of angel heads and elements of baroque flora. The saints in pairs, from the front right hand side, are the following: Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Anthony of the Deserts, Saint Paul of Thebes and hermit, Zaerárd Benedek. The apostles: Jacob, Philip, Peter, Paul, John, Andrew, Jacob, Simon, Bartholomew, Jude and Matthew.
The winged picture on the left-hand side represents the Transfiguration of Jesus. The patronal festival of the chapel is on the 6th of August. Its side pictures are the following: Saint Joseph, Saint Francis, Saint Paul the Apostle and Saint Anthony of Padua.
Inside, on the chapel’s walls the following reading can be seen: “Divine Salvator! A divine fight is fought by this camp and those who love you from the heart win their celestial home”. Outside the chapel on its right-hand side, towards the south the following lettering can be seen: “We are waiting for the Saviour! Our Lord Jesus Christ who will transform our divine humble bodies into glorified shape. Philipp. IV. 20.”
On the epigraph on the north we can read the following: “The transfigurated and glorified chapel of Salvator after 200 years has been mended. DoMUs SaLVatorIs et JanVa IVstIfICatIonIs poenItentIbVs.”
On the sunk panel of the choir banister the following can be seen: a Virgin with the lettering: Patrona Hungariae; Saint Stephen; Saint Ladislaus I of Hungary and floral arrangements.
The main altar was made in 1679 as a pledge of Katalin Kornis, wife of János Haller. The central picture of the altar represents Jesus with the cross in his hands. On the sides the picture of Saint John the Apostle and the picture of the Great Martyr Saint Catherine can be seen.
The south side altar in front of the arch shows the scene of the Calvary, the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. The north side altar represents the Queen Virgin Mary holding Jesus in her arms. Its structure and painted ornament is of Renaissance style.
On the south side a simple Gothic door can be found with the following label: “Renovated Salvator 1678”. This represented the original entrance. In the Middle Ages the chapel was surrounded by a stonewall.
The prevailing guardian of the Salvator chapel is the hermit. We don’t know the exact date of their first presence. In spite of the prohibition of Joseph II in 1782 there has always been somebody living next to the chapel after this date. The hermitage was rebuilt in 1944. Its previous inhabitant Jakab Imre was a pilgrim hermit; he fenced in the area of the chapel and planted fruit trees.
The Chapel of the Suffering Jesus
To the East from the Chapel Salvator the Chapel of the Suffering Jesus can be found. This is only a small cab inside with the statue of the fallen Jesus tied to a column. This statue was made in 1810. On the west side of the chapel there is a lettering calling for reverential prayer: “sIne Inter MIssIone orodItIs Deo In LoCo Isto et Plae oratIones Vestrae AtqVe sUspIrIa non erUnt InanIa.” (On this place you shall worship the Lord and your prayers will not be in vain.)
The Chapel of Saint Anthony
On the West of the mountain Kissomlyó one can find the Chapel of Saint Anthony. The first chapel was built by the Franciscan monk Márk Jakab who attributed his escape from the Tartar-Turks in 1661 to Saint Anthony. The chapel that we can see was built in 1750-73 on the place of the original chapel. Its Baroque altar picture represents Saint Anthony, the patron. The Ninth of Saint Anthony was started in 1741.
The Patronal Festival
The Patronal Festival is celebrated on 2 July, the day of the Visitation and in the Catholic Church it was started by the Franciscans during the 13th century. They brought it to Csíksomlyó as well, which might be the reason for which the Pilgrimage Church was devoted to the Visitation in 1448.
Before the period of the Gothic church there existed reverence towards the Virgin Mary promoted by the Franciscans.
Pope Eugene IV gave evidence of this: “a multitude of the faithful comes together to worship and they do not stop gathering together often.”
The Pentecost Patronal Festival
During the Reformation, in 1567, Zsigmond János, Prince of Transylvania, wanted to convert the Catholics from Csík, Gyergyó and Kászon to the Unitarian Church with the help of the army. The three Szeklers territories defended their faith with the leadership of Stephen, parish priest of Gyergyóalfalu.
The Reformers were received on the Hargita Mountain while the elderly, the women and the children were praying in Csíksomlyó. The combat ended with triumph and the winners came back holding birch twigs in their hands. To commemorate this historical event the faithful go on a pilgrimage to Csíksomlyó every year. At the beginning only the faithful from Csík, Gyergyó and Kászon went on the pilgrimage but later on other faithful joined from: Háromszék, Udvarhely, Marosszék and Hungarian-speaking natives of Moldavia.
They marched with flags and ringing bars. On their arrival they were received by a Franciscan monk at the Chapel of Saint John. The pilgrims attended a holy mass in the church or in front of the church, they made their holy confessions, received Holy Communion, greeted the Virgin Mary and made a procession led by the faithful from Gyergyóalfalu and then the rest in the order mentioned above.
The procession went round the Mountain Kissomlyó. When the high priest got to the Salvator Chapel, the pilgrims sang the song called:
“Mary you are wholly beautiful” and then they received the blessing of the high priest. The last pilgrimage before Communism was in 1949, before Bishop Áron Márton was arrested. During Communism the authorities wanted to stop the pilgrimage with various methods. For this reason in that period there was no procession and the number of the pilgrims decreased as well.
In the Antiquity, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337), the labarum used to be a military flag representing victory. The labarum from Csíksomlyó was made in 1567 to commemorate that the battle from Hargita was won and it is carried in the procession in front of the bishop and the priests. According to the tradition the labarum is carried by the best students from the Catholic High School in Csíkszereda.
From the 1990s the procession that was prohibited before the 1950’s started. Since 1993, as a result of the increasing number of pilgrims, the holy mass has been celebrated in the saddle between the Mountains of Kissomlyó and Nagysomlyó. Nowadays the clerical cordon and the pilgrims joining them take part in the procession following the same route as before.
In May 7, 1936 the Holy See allowed that every day a person who visits the Pilgrimage Church of Csíksomlyó, confesses, receives Holy Communion and prays for the intention of the Pope can earn total indulgence.
The Stations of the Cross
From the foot of the mountain Kissomlyó to the Chapel Salvator, on the steepest part, there are the Stations of the Cross called also Jesus’ Steep. The oldest crosses were placed in 1868 but nowadays only a few have remained. After World War II, new Stations of the Cross were set in place; these were made by the stonecutter József Kovács from Zsögöd. Walking on Jesus´ Steep today is one of the essential parts of the pilgrimage.
The Virgin Mary Patronal Autumn Festival
The Autumn Festival is held on Sunday after the Festival of Kisboldogasszony. On September 12th, Mary’s Name Festival takes place. The faithful do not come with crosses but with zeal to greet Mary and earn indulgence. This is also called the Székely’s Festival.