Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses: Dynastic Cults in Medieval Central Europe

Article excerpt

Gabor Klaniczay. Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses: Dynastic Cults in Medieval Central Europe. Past and Present Publications. Trans. Eva Palmai. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. xviii, 490 pp. Illustrations. Genealogical Tables. Bibliography. Index. $ 95.00, cloth.

This is an English translation (smoothly done by Eva Palmai) of Klaniczay's Az uralkodok szentsege a kozepkorban: Magyar dinasztikus szentkultuszok es europai modellek (Budapest, 2000). That volume was the result of research effectively completed by the early 1990s, and this edition includes updated references and a newly written conclusion "for the international public." The book reviewed here is an important contribution both to Hungarian and east central European history and to medieval European history in general.

Though part of the "younger Europe" converted to Christianity later than the "older Europe" (to use terminology that has now found much favour among historians of this region), east central Europe participated fully in the cultural forms that had come to characterize the medieval cult of saints. Klaniczay begins by surveying the transition from god-kings to sacral kingship in the early middle ages and the development of ruler cults, martyr kings, and blessed queens, with particular reference to the Franks (especially Charlemagne) and the Anglo-Saxon model. The core of his analysis is upon the remarkable sequence of saints in the ruling Hungarian dynasty: Stephen, Emeric, Ladislas, Elizabeth, Margaret, and others, whose mendicant convents mirrored "the court of heaven." He carefully examines written, iconographic, and archaeological materials to show the role that cults of these saints exercised in the region. Although he includes some representatives from the Orthodox tradition, his primary focus is upon the Latin rite.

Rich with details and subtle in its argument, Klaniczay's presentation is particularly strong in showing how decisive it was that east central Europe adopted Christianity at the very time when early medieval hostility to royal sainthood had started to fade, and the peoples of the region had no sense of the earlier contradictions between rulership and sainthood. …