The enduring legend of the Irish Madonna of Hungary

The Irish Madonna of Hungary, widely believed to have originated in St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, Galway.

The Irish Madonna of Hungary, widely believed to have originated in St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, Galway.

An extraordinary thing happened in the Hungarian city of Gyor on St Patrick’s Day, March 17 1697. A painting of the Virgin and Child, brought to the city 42 years previously by Bishop Walter Lynch, a member of the esteemed Lynch family of Galway, began to ‘weep copiously’ during Mass. Despite having been wiped clean with linen cloths (one of those cloths is still preserved ), it continued to exude ‘a bloody sweat’ for three hours.

The ‘miracle’ was witnessed by hundreds of astonished people, many of whom gave written testimony of what they saw. Bishop Lynch, who was also Warden of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church for a time, sought refuge in Flanders, following the surrender of Galway to Cromwellian troops February 14 1653. There Bishop Lynch lived in poverty until his plight became known by Bishop János Pusky of Gyor, who invited him to his cathedral city, where he was appointed a canon, given a house, and a decent income. Bishop Lynch’s life in Gyor is described as that of an exemplary ‘humble priest.’ He spent his income supporting the poor. ‘The people of Gyor truly loved this foreigner for his generosity and devotion’.

Following his death on July 14 1663, on the eve of his departure back to Ireland, Walter Lynch was buried in the cathedral. The image of the Virgin and Child, one of his few belongings, was hung on the wall of the northern aisle of the church.

A mystery

Where Bishop Lynch came upon this beautiful picture (somewhat debased by the addition of golden crowns in the 19th century ), is a mystery which I will try to unravel in the weeks to come. But whatever its origins the picture has been deeply venerated by generations of Hungarians, who, for more than three centuries, flock to see it throughout the year, but especially on March 17. The picture is known as ‘The Irish Madonna’, but perhaps more meaningfully as ‘The Consoler of the Afflicted’.

There is no doubt that this is an icon of extraordinary power, and was both a personal and national comfort during Hungary’s difficult history in past centuries. The vision that St Patrick’s Day was witnessed by hundreds, maybe a thousand people. A document signed by 100 people, includes the signature of the governor of the city, its mayor, all its city councillors, the bishop, priests, Calvinists and Luthern ministers, as well as a Jewish rabbi, all testified that they had witnessed an undeniable miracle.

The miracle

A witness wrote: ….’Then did an extraordinary and naturally inexplicable phenomenon happen, that right on March 17, the holiday of Bishop St Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, around six o’clock in the morning, while numerous people were hearing Holy Mass, all of a sudden it was noticed that this Blessed Lady’s image wept; immediately the multitude swarmed about the place, seeing the thing in astonishment; some began to cry and repent their sins, others to doubt…

‘from the whole town gathered inhabitants of all ranks and all religions, those from the chapter, took the image from the wall; the wall was dry, and the image not only continued to weep, but was wet with sweat of blood, the drops were wiped with pure white cambric, but the image painted on the canvass wept again, so that a few drops fell on the cheek of the baby Jesus even, whose marks are still to be seen in the picture now. Moreover the cambric has ben preserved to the present day in a silver frame in the treasury of the capital church.

‘Full three hours did the vision last, during which the church rang with the devoted prayer of the Christian multitude that gathered there together. Among them was Count Heister Siegebert, the Imperial Military Governor of Gyor.’

Count Heister Siegebert was a general, a military man, and a member of the nobility of the time. He was so firmly convinced of the genuineness of the event that he and his wife erected a new altar in honour of the Blessed Virgin at his own expense.

More next week.

NOTES: Having heard a brief outline of the Galway connection with the Virgin of Gyor, my daughter Annajoy and I arrived on our bikes at Gyor cathedral, on the banks of the Danube, in July last summer. We were very grateful for the welcome and information generously given by the young staff there. The interior of the church is being renovated at present, but the painting is displayed in a near-by annex. We joined the long queue to see it.

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