Private Monasteries of Medieval Hungary (Eleventh to Fourteenth Centuries): A Case Study of the Ákos Kindred and its Monasteries

Doctoral Defense
Open to the Public
Nador u. 11
Friday, December 19, 2014 - 2:00pm
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Friday, December 19, 2014 - 2:00pm to 4:00pm

Doctoral Dissertation Abstract


The former abbey church of Ákos (Acâș, Romania) is one of the most important Romanesque monuments of medieval Hungary. It is a good example to illustrate the complex issues of the so-called “kindred monasteries.”

Historiography: Concepts, Terminology and Problems.

The introductory chapter reassesses the conceptual framework and the terminology, synthezing the main debates and results on kindreds and their monasteries in. Art historians, archaeologists, social historians, and ecclesiastical historians have all elaborated their own concepts, methodologies, and terminology, sometimes influencing each other. But, the reciprocal borrowings of concepts were often made without proper critiques and no attempt was made at a systematic integration.

Kindred monasteries were originally defined as those founded by noble families to serve as links between the different branches of related families. They were used as common burial places and as cult centers. All private monasteries were first referred to in the scholarship as “kindred monasteries,” an artificial linguistic construct, as such a term does not appear in the sources. After WWII, new socio-historical research a led to new developments, most importantly separating the historical meaning of “kindred” as the social elite from related concepts of social organization, the system of inheritance and property rights. In this latter sense, a kindred was the assembly of male-line descendants of an ancestor who enjoyed special rights of inheritance and property.

The foundation and patronage of monasteries was linked to the concept of the social elite, which kindreds used to develop and express their influence and social status. Some kindreds emphasized their lineage’s connections with historical figures by calling themselves de genere (descendants) of famous ancestors. The importance of origins was also marked in the use of certain heraldic signs, their preference for certain first names, and certain elements of the oral historical tradition of kindreds – several of them incorporated in narratives on national history. All of these legitimized kindreds through increased prestige. The foundation of monasteries could plausibly be an element of such strategies through the cult of the ancestors. There were, however, prestigious kindreds who do not seem to have patronized any monastery and there were other kindreds that founded two or even more monasteries, which suggests that the role of monasteries was more complex than only the veneration of ancestors. Focusing on the relationships of monasteries with patron families revealed that there were no collective foundations. Monasteries were founded by individuals and collective patronage was only the result of inheritance. In fact, monasteries were not factors in defining the concept of the kindred, as the patrons were not always identical with the whole family.

From the viewpoint of ecclesiastical history, the patronage of kindreds over monasteries fits into the general development of private patronage in medieval Hungary. It followed the development from the system of the proprietary church to the use of the ius patronatus terminology, maintaining the essential features related to the role and rights of patrons. Scholars came to see that the endowing of monastic foundations by the upper elite was echoed in the foundation of parish churches and chapels by families at lower social levels. From the viewpoint of the church there was no legal difference among the types of church institutions that attracted patrons (monasteries, parish churches, and chapels) and no distinction was made among the lay founders and patrons. Monasteries founded and patronized by kindreds were significantly weaker economically than royal foundations; they did not have the same administrative, juridical, and ecclesiastical privileges.

A considerable number of abbey churches belonging to the monasteries of kindreds have been preserved, being the most significant extant architectural monuments of Hungarian Romanesque style. Royal monastic foundations were almost entirely demolished or transformed, together with cathedrals and collegiate churches. In contrast with parish churches and chapels, abbey churches are of high standards and more impressive in their decorative programs, which has been of interest to art historians. A “kindred monastery”-type church was eventually defined as a triple-aisled basilica (with variations). This art historical concept influenced the historical research in general for decades, not only in its artistic implications, but also in its social meaning. New data from field studies led to revisions of the conceptual framework as well as typological and stylistic classifications. This type of ground plan arrangement was not specific to abbey churches of monasteries with kindred patrons, but to other churches as well and stylistic connections are not restricted to certain monasteries related to a single order or patronized by a particular social class. Further architectural details, with liturgical, juridical or even economic implications, must be considered; burials seem to be the most significant as they were the most important links with the patrons ...