Emphases and Turning-points in the History of the Diocese of Eger (1699–1761)

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Béla Vilmos Mihalik

The paper examines the process of late confessionalization in the Dioecese of Eger, which was one of largest dioceses in the medieval and early modern Hungary. After the liberation of Eger, the ancient bishopric seat from the Ottomans, the bishop did not returned to the town immediately. It occured only in 1699 with the installation of the new bishop, István Telekesy. In the meantime several religious orders (Jesuits, Franciscans, Servites and Conventual Franciscans) settled in the town and formed an ecclesiastical centre with various institutions. When István Telekesy set up his residence in Eger, one of his first acts was the foundation of a priest seminary. The further developments of the diocese and the episcopal seat were hindered by the War of Independence led by Prince Ferenc II. Rákóczi (1703–1711) against the Habsburgs. Bishop Telekesy was committed politically and he could keep his bishopric seat in 1710 only with the interposal of the Holy See and the papal nuncio in Vienna. In his last years Bishop Telekesy had began the reform of the Chapter of Eger, but the overall reforms of the diocese remained on his successors.

The most important milestones of this reform process were the synod in 1734, the canonical visitation in 1746 and the diocesal statutes in 1749. The synod held by Bishop Gábor Antal Erdődy as a preparation for a national synod that later was cancelled due to the new war against the Ottomans. Between the two sessions of the synod the bishopric vicar-general, György Foglár ordered a visitation in the decanal districts. Although the documents of the visitation are unknown, but the second session and its decrees were based on its results. The synodal decrees refered on the confessional conflicts with the Protestants and the jurisdictional disagreements with the Greek Catholics. The decrees also urged for the improvement of the parish priest’s financial conditions, that was important for the stabilization of the parish network. The synod also tried to reorganize the administrative system on the middle-level with forming new decanal districts. As one of the largest dioceses in Hungary, the efficient administration of the diocese became more and more difficult. Therefore in these years Bishop Erdődy made plans to cut out a new diocese for the Transtybiscan region with the seat of Nagybánya (now Baia Mare, Romania). Although King Charles III supported that plan, finally it was hindered by the Chapter.

In the article I examined the canonical visitation of 1746 in three southern archdecanal districts. Despite the expansion of the parish network in the previous decades there were still huge gaps in the regional cover. In the Archdeaconry of Borsod – that was the mostly heterogeneous from confessional perspective – 93 villages fell out from the Catholic system. Although these villages were mostly inhabited by Calvinists, the 8% of the Catholic population in that archdeaconry had not got any connection to the parish network. The visitation also recorded various problems with the local religious life and the earnings of the parish priests. The composition of the ecclesiastical incomes based on the different services of the local residents and therefore it was the source of several conflicts. On the other hand the visitors noted often the negligence of the believers.

The statutes of 1749 refered in several aspects on the experiences of the canonical visitation. The regulations had four chapters, which discussed main commitments of the parish priests (sacraments, sermon, catecheses etc.), the parish administration, the life conduct of the priests and the incomes and properties of the parishes. The statutes together with the synod and the canonical visitation formed an organic reform process.

The paper briefly examined three different settlements to shed light on the local phenomena of the reform process. The free royal city of Nagybánya had a great majority of Protestants, but the Jesuit mission founded in the late 17th century offered a solid background for the local development of the Catholic Church. Despite the confessional circumstances the city became the suggested seat of the new diocese planned by Bishop Erdődy. The privileged market town of Jászberény had a remarkable regional influence with its rich parish and Franciscan convent. Although the town was a territorial Catholic centre, due to local reasons the little Calvinist minority was able to defend its institutions until the 1760’s. The third settlement is Pély, a village from the southern part of the diocese. Despite the hard financial circumstances of the local parish, it had a regional significance in the regional expansion of the parish network, because this village was the only Catholic one in this microregion. The three settlements give different viewpoints on the reform process and help to get deeper into the local level.