What is today called Hungary was most likely one of the "founding nations" in the Order of Saint Augustine. This was because one of the groups that participated in the Grand Union of the Order in the year 1256 almost certainly had houses there. Although this group, the Hermits of Saint William (Williamites) soon withdrew from the Order of Saint Augustine, their houses in Germany and Hungary - approximately twenty of them - stayed with the Order. For example, the former Williamite house at Gran (now called Esztergom) was fully established in 1262. In 1290 King Andrew III praised its members for their exemplary lives, and approved a house of study there.
Although historical records are not plentiful, Vito of Hungary O.S.A. is said to have brought to the Christian Faith more than 10,000 persons. These people had arrived in the area as a result of the invasion by the Mongol tribes in the previous century. Vito was listed by the thirteenth-century Augustinian historian, Henry of Friemar O.S.A., as a holy man, but Henry knew little more about him than his name. Vito was mentioned by name by other Augustinian historical writers, including Ambrose Massari da Cori O.S.A., and the Anonymous Florentine (who also included a miracle story), but not by Jordan of Saxony O.S.A.
The woodcut (above) shows the former Augustinian church and monastery in Buda (part of the twin city of Budapest that lies on both sides of the Danube River), as drawn in 1819; although the property was then no longer in Augustinian possession, its drawing herein showed it unaltered from its previous period of Augustinian construction and possession. Today, the church is staffed by the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans), who also now occupy the adjacent former Augustinian monastery buildings,
At the request of Pope Boniface VIII about the year 1295, Giles of Rome O.S.A. wrote an instruction book about preaching the Christian faith to the Tartar tribes. It is believed by many historians that the Augustinian Province of Hungary existed at the time of the General Chapter at Siena in 1295, even though some have maintained it was founded after 1308, and that houses in Hungary previous to that year were part of the Province of Germany. Reasons for thinking otherwise include: (1) in 1262, Pope Urban IV granted the privileges of the bull Religiosam vitam eligentibus to his "beloved sons, the priors and brothers hermits, who live according to God and the Rule of St Augustine in the kingdom of Hungary" (2) In 1265, Pope Clement IV sent another bull, also favouring the Augustinians, "to the archbishops and bishops of the kingdoms of Germany and Bohemia."
If it were true that the Augustinian houses in Hungary were part of the German Province before 1308, one cannot easily explain the omission of the superior of Germany in the first bull, and the omission of Hungary in the second. It is certain, moreover, that an Augustinian named Peter of Hungary took part in the General Chapter held in Perugia in 1303 as a definitor of the Augustinian Province in his country. Hungary had six Augustinian houses by the year 1300. In Hungary, according to Adrianyi, "all of the kings were great promoters of the Augustinians," from Bela IV (1235-1270) to Louis I, whose four-decade reign began in 1342. Worthy of note is the Hungarian, Stephen of Insula O.S.A.. He obtained his doctorate in Paris, was a professor at the Augustinian studium (study house) in Esztergom, and ultimately bishop of Nyitria and archbishop of Kalocsa in the period from 1350 until 1382. To Stephen and his teacher Alexander of Hungary is owed the favourable judgment of two contemporary Hungarian scholars regarding the Augustinians at the end of the Middle Ages in their country. They state that "at the beginning of the fourteenth century the key to scientific and theological learning in Hungary principally comes from the West, through the activity of the Hermits of St Augustine."
In comparison to other provinces of the Order, the Province of Hungary fared well from 1350 to 1400, with about twenty-four communities. The Hungarian studium (study house for Augustinians) in Esztergom did not appear in Augustinian documentation before 1384, but it very likely existed at the beginning of that century, because the king of Hungary, Andrew III, who declared himself a benefactor of the Augustinians by reason of their religious life, pleasing to God," had asked them, in 1290, to establish in Esztergorn "a studium for theology and other disciplines, supplied with everything necessary to its purposes." The Order in Hungary escaped the Black Death at the beginning of that period, and six of its members were called by the Church to become bishops.
The General Chapter of the Order in the year 1385 was held at Esztergom in the Province of Hungary. Esztergom is forty-five kilometres up the Danube River from Budapest. The city was the capital of Hungary from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, at which point the capital was moved to nearby Visegrad. By the end of the 1400s the Order had expanded as far as Lithuania and the present-day Belarus. By 1450, however, external forces had begun to have negative effects of the spirit and numbers in the Province. These external factors included the pressure of Turkish invasion, and the breaking out of a civil war in Hungary at that very inopportune period. The Prior and seven members of a Hungarian Augustinian convento volunteered for the army of the patriotic John Hunyadi that successfully defeated the Turks at Belgrade in July 1456, and all eight Augustinians died in battle. In 1423 the Prior General had written to Hungary about having greater diligence in the education of its candidates. There was concern in the decline of candidates in both quantity and quality, which was causing the Province itself to decline. In the year 1514, almost a century later, Giles of Viterbo O.S.A. as Prior General sent Augustine of Vicenza O.S.A. from Italy to be in charge of studies in Hungary. By then, however, the situation was desperate. Only twelve years later, Hungary was under domination of Islam by the armies of Turkey.
The Protestant Reformation in 1518 was a further impact, when the followers of Martin Luther became one more challenge for the Province of Hungary. The priory (convento) of the Order at Bartfa was taken over by the Lutherans in 1528, the Turks closed the houses at Ilkok, Buda, Papocz and Szekesfehervar, and the civil war destroyed the houses at Szepesvar and Szepesvaralja. By 1551 the Province had only five houses remaining, and these were semi-deserted; these included the houses at Eger, Papocz and Varad. The date of the loss of the oldest and principal house at Esztergom is unknown. The Augustinian house at Eger persisted until 1596, when the Turks gave it to the Serbian Orthodox Church. Founded in the middle of the thirteenth century, by the year 1599 the Province of Hungary in the Order of Saint Augustine no longer existed. Later there was an Augustinian Province of Austria-Hungary, which by about 1750 had 290 members in fourteen houses, including Hungarian centres such as Buda, and Pecs (Funfkirchen). In the year 1790, Joseph II of Austria suppressed eleven of these fourteen houses, and the armies of Napoleon and France caused the destruction of the others in the years that followed.
After its eventual expulsion from Hungary by the Turks, the Order was absent from Hungary for about a century, i.e. from approximately 1599 to 1700. It returned from 1700 until removed once again, this time by Emperor Joseph II and the armies of Napoleon circa 1791. As already stated, in the year 1790 Emperor Joseph II of the Austro-Hungarian Empire suppressed eleven of the fourteen Augustinian houses in Hungary, and the armies of Napoleon and France caused the destruction of the others in the years that followed. The Order has not existed in Hungary since that time.
For the separate Augnet pages on the former Augustinian church at Buda (see woodcut above), click here.