Historical description

Kamalduli Remeteség, Majk_3

Historical description

Visitors to the hermitage can have a taste of what the peaceful life of the monks that had taken a vow of silence 250 years ago was like. The hermitage, considered unique in Europe, surrounded by forests and lakes, does not only have an unequalled atmosphere, but it is also a baroque monument complex comprised of seventeen cell-houses, a church tower, and a monastery.

József Esterházy, the landowner, founded the Camaldolese Hermitage in 1733, to which he also contributed 1,200 acres of grassland, lakes, and mills. Following the peace of Szatmár in 1711, Majk Hermitage of the Camaldolese Monastic Order, the members of which had taken a vow of silence, was built with the donations of Transdanubian noble families loyal to Rákóczi as a symbol of silence, which was one of the last chances of resistance following the Rákóczi War of Independence.

József Esterházy commissioned the famous Austrian Baroque architect, Franz Anton Pilgram (1699–1761) to design the building complex. The foundations of the church, surrounded by the cell-houses of the hermitage, were constructed in 1753, and a fish was also placed along with the foundation stone as a symbol of silence. Pilgram’s design was never fully realised: only seventeen of the twenty cell-houses initially planned were erected during the construction, which was completed in 1770. The edifices were built with donations of Hungarian aristocratic families, which is indicated by their coats of arms on the main façade of each cell-house.

In 1806, Count Károly Esterházy purchased the property and began leasing it out. Majk had the largest fabric production firm in the region at the time. Its workers lived in the cell-houses, one of which was later converted into a school.

In the summer of 1810, lightning struck and burnt down the roof structure of the church dedicated to Saint John. The stones were hauled in part by the Lutherans of Oroszlány and in part by Károly Esterházy in order to enlarge his Csákvár mansion. A fragment of a fresco is still visible on one side of the tower, on the remains of the sacristy vault. During World War II, the mansion’s eastern wing and the adjoining portion of the main wing were destroyed, erasing the family archives, along with rare books, newspapers, and several valuable items of furniture. After the war, the facility served as a hospital; following nationalisation, a secondary school and dormitories were relocated within its walls, followed by a workers’ hostel. Apart from the stoves in the refectory and hunting hall, the upstairs fireplace, and two chandeliers, very few of the original furnishings on the site are reminiscent of bygone eras.

Since the 1980s, Majk has been a tourist attraction; the lower section of the church tower was renovated in 1993, and a contemporary turret clock was brought here in 1992. The buffet, which is still in operation today, was established by remodelling the former ice cellar. From 2001 until 2012, the Majk Camaldolese Hermitage was managed by the National Trust of Monuments for Hungary, and since then by the National Heritage Protection and Development Nonprofit Ltd., as its legal successor.

 

THE CAMALDOLESE ORDER

Saint Romuald created the strict offshoot of the Benedictine order around 980 in Camaldoli, near Arezzo, Italy (951–1027). It was approved by Pope Alexander II in 1027. They were also known as “white Benedictines” because of their white habits. The order established four monasteries in Hungary, one of which was the Hermitage of Majk, which operated from 1733 to 1782.

The Camaldolese arrived in Majkpuszta in the mid-1730s. Each cell-house was occupied by a single monk; they were permitted to recite the daily mandatory prayers aloud but were required to abstain from speaking for the remainder of the day. They could only meet during Mass and on major holidays, as well as at communal meals. They were only allowed to talk twice a year, for three days each time. Their mission has been to pray for everyone in the world, even for and in place of those who never turn to God themselves.

During its operation, the order was self-sufficient, subsisting on agriculture and charity donations. Farming was done by fraters, lay brothers who made a vow of silence but were not consecrated. They engaged in fishing and agricultural activities and were responsible for checking on the hermits’ health. Majk was given the title of priory in 1770, when the church, the Foresteria (forest monastery), and the chapel were still under construction. Every Sunday and public holiday, the Camaldolese gathered in the chapel.

The silent brothers could only remain at Majkpuszta for a brief period, as Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, dissolved the majority of the orders of the empire and kingdom, in 1782. The Camaldolese community consisted of eleven consecrated fathers (pater) and four non-consecrated monks (frater) at the time of the dissolution. Some monks remained in Hungary after 1782, but others continued to function in Italy. By 1784, the hermitage had been demolished, leaving only mill tenants and their employees on the estate, as well as caretakers of the fishponds.

 

The Hermetic Way of Life in Majk

Isolation and a difficult-to-reach place with natural constraints were necessary for the hermetic way of life to be practised without interruption. The seclusion and serenity of the deep wilderness had already impacted young Romuald in the surroundings, where the hermit pursued the path of monastic perfection away from the noise of the world.

The hermits of Mount Corona lived according to the Rule of Saint Benedict, abiding by their congregation’s three vows of obedience, poverty, and purity. Silence, austerity, and regular fasting were essential to their contemplative way of life.

At the end of the exhibition tour, Majk Camaldolese Hermitage bids the visitor farewell with a poem by Sándor Weöres, the great poet of modern Hungarian literature, who compresses everything where silence dwells into a timeless vision.

Two silences

The hillside house

encircled by holts, 

clouds afloat.

Embracing at its door

the outer silence and the inmost.

 

Francis II Rákóczi and the Camaldolese

Between 1715 and 1717, following the end of the War of Independence, Francis Rákóczi II was a guest of the Camaldolese monks at the monastery of Grobois, near Paris. The prince found tranquilly within the walls of the Camaldolese monastery, and according to his will, his heart was buried there.

Unfortunately, the monastery at Grobois was destroyed during World War II, so the urn that was used to guard the ashes of the prince’s heart has not survived either. However, a plaque honouring his memory is located in Majk Camaldolese Hermitage.

Széchenyi 2020