The beatified king who founded Hungary, St. Stephen was buried in the middle of the Székesfehérvár basilica on August 20, 1038. As the country was in turmoil due to pagan uprisings, he was soon reinterred in the crypt beneath the Basilica. As his right hand had been considered to have holy powers, it was separated from his body. Merkurius, the keeper of the treasury, stole the Holy Right and hid it on his property in Bihar to keep it safe. When King St. Ladislaus failed to find the Holy Right in either the crypt or the treasury, he paid a visit to Merkurius. The former treasurer confessed everything but came up with a legendary story surrounding his theft: the holy relic had been placed in his care by an angel. King Ladislaus accepted the explanation and had a stone monastery built at the location, which lent its name to the village.
In 1222, reverence for the Holy Right was enacted in law in the Golden Bull. In the 16th century, the Holy Right ended up in a number of different locations: during Ottoman rule, it found a home in Bosnia, then (around 1590) it was moved to Ragusa (today’s Dubrovnik), and then placed in the care of the Dominicans. Maria Theresa did everything she could to regain possession, and so it ended up in Vienna, where it was put on display on April 16, 1771, from where it was taken to Buda. Maria Theresa placed the Holy Right under the care of the Congregation of Jesus and decreed that August 20 should be celebrated as St. Stephen’s Day.
At the start of the 1800s, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor instructed the crusaders to protect it and, after the order was dissolved, gave it to the Archdiocese of Esztergom in 1865. It was housed in the St. Sigismund Chapel in Buda Castle at the beginning of the 20th century, where it was on display until 1944. During this period, 1938 marked a special occasion: on the 900th anniversary of the death of St. Stephen, the nation celebrated St. Stephen’s Jubilee Year, and the Holy Right toured the country.
In World War II, the Holy Right, together with the other coronation relics, was hidden in a cave in Salzburg, where it was discovered by American soldiers. Three members of the Inter-Allied Military Mission returned the relic to Hungary for a procession on August 20, 1945. At the end of the celebrations, the Holy Right was removed to the monastery of the Congregation of Jesus, where it was kept until 1950, when the order was ordered to disband. During communist rule, it was kept in a safe at the St. Stephen’s Basilica parish, and was again made available for public viewing in 1983: The chapel recently renovated in St. Stephen’s Basilica was declared the Chapel of the Holy Right and was consecrated by Cardinal László Paskai, Primate and Archbishop, on 1987, where it could be viewed by the devout.
The Holy Right is housed in the neo-Gothic relic holder made of silver and polished glass by József Lippert in 1862. The relic of the hand of the founder of Hungary, St. Stephen, has become a symbol of the nation’s statehood.