The Camaldolese Hermitage of Majk, a monument complex in Hungary that is considered a rarity throughout Europe, is located in the depths of the northern Vértes Mountain range, near reed-covered lakes. Here, where silence prevails, the visitor can leave the bustling world behind and enter the timeless, holy world of the hermits.
The History of Majk
The Camaldolese order was founded in mediaeval Italy by hermit communities of followers of Saint Romuald (c. 952–1027). In the 16th century, a new branch of the order, the Congregation of Mount Corona, was established. In 1733, Count József Esterházy (1682–1748) gifted Majkpuszta to the Camaldolese, along with farmland, woodlands, pastures, fishponds, and mills. The hermitage was erected in phases between 1736 and 1770, according to the plans of Austrian architect Franz Anton Pilgram. The contemplative monastic orders, including the Camaldolese, were disbanded by Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1782. The buildings were rented by a fabric production firm in the first half of the 19th century, and the Esterházys began using them as a hunting lodge in the 1860s. Count Móric Esterházy (1881–1960), Prime Minister of Hungary in 1917, was born in Majk. The guest house (Foresteria) was renovated between 2012 and 2015, and the renovation of the rest of the monument, including the cell-houses, the church, the geometric garden and its garden structure, i.e. the grotto chapel, began in 2018.
Lake Majk and its Surroundings
In the formal language of contemporary architecture, the ticket desk/reception facility evokes the one-story dwellings of agricultural serf-tenants that originally stood on the lake shore. Visitors heading towards the church tower from here will cross a dam, and then, at the outflow of the lake, come upon its solitary surviving watermill, which is now a protected monument. Above the lake, on a hill, rises the Celli (Mariazell) Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary, built outside the walls of the hermitage in 1757 for the spiritual refreshment of the people serving in Majkpuszta and “the pilgrims of both sexes”.
The Main Gate
According to the testimony of its keystone, the main gate of Majk Hermitage was completed in 1746. The visitor can now see the ornate gate and its “gatekeepers”, the statues of Saint Romuald of Ravenna and his father, Sergius degli Onesti, in the building complex’s western perimeter wall, where they were relocated in 1860. In 2020, a new gate construction resembling the old gate’s mass division, figural embellishments, and inscription was created in its original location, allowing for reading of the original Latin inscription that translates as: “Far be those who disturb the silence from the gates of this sacred solitude, for its consecrated army despises noise”.
The Foresteria, which was constructed between 1745 and 1752, comprised guest rooms and communal spaces for hermits, such as a kitchen, a library, and a barber chamber. The ceremonial dining hall, the Refectory, located on the ground floor level, was central to the monastic community’s life: it was here that they dined together at Christmas and Easter. Its walls are covered with murals depicting the life of Romuald and the Last Supper. Upstairs visitors can view the exhibition about the history of the Camaldolese titled “The Power of Silence”, as well as a Polish photo exhibition, which portrays the contemporary life of the order. Additionally, this wing contains rooms honouring the relationship between Hungarian prince Francis II Rákóczi and the Camaldolese in France.
The cell-houses of the hermits were situated in an area separated by walls from the Foresteria. They were constructed from the foundations of aristocratic families, individuals, and high priests. Their coats of arms can be seen on the façade. Cell-houses comprised a reception room, a cell, a chapel, a workshop, and a woodshed, and each hermit had a small garden. The cell-house served as the personal living space of a hermit; he slept, ate, and read here, and spent his leisure time writing, sculpting, and tending to his garden.
The display in cell-house No. 6 depicts the life of a Camaldolese hermit, while cell-house No. 7 portrays the dwelling of the abbot. Visitors can gain a sense of the local material culture from the 18th to the 20th centuries in the same exhibition space.
The single-nave Church of Saint John of Nepomuk, built with a side-tower between c. 1753 and 1770, exemplifies the idiosyncrasies of Italian monastic architecture. It served as the community’s spiritual hub, where hermits congregated and worshipped together. Her nave was destroyed, and the monks’ seats are now shown in stylised stalls in the old sanctuary. Additionally, the visitor can view the recently unearthed larger crypt, which graciously preserves the memory of the monks and lay brothers who died during the operation of the hermitage, through a holographic film titled “The Pilgrimage of the Soul”, which depicts the Baroque image of death with symbols of passing away. Ascending the stairs of the church tower, the deeper “secrets” of monastic spirituality are revealed, while the belfry offers a magnificent panorama over Vértes. Also in the belfry, the big bell of Majk, constructed using the original casting technique, can be viewed.
The hermitage gardens used to extend to the southeast of the Majk building complex. The magnificent geometric garden has preserved its 18th-century retaining wall system. On its upper terrace, visitors may view the grotto chapel, which features Baroque stucco ornamentation and, at the most important point of the garden, on its vault, a reconstructed mural of the Virgin Mary. Vegetable gardens were located on the garden’s middle and lower terraces, while orchards were established near the lake and along the line of cells. The Esterházy family developed an English garden with landscape features in the location of the latter, during the 19th century.