St. Gerard – The first Christian martyr of Hungary
Saint Gerard was not born in Hungary, but fate connected his life to the Central European country. He was born in Venice in an island surrounded by marshes. He was five years old when he got severely sick, so he was moved to the island of San Giogro to be cured by the local monks. The family made a vow that if George– that was his name of birth – was healed by the prayers, the family would dedicate their life to the servitude of God.
George was cured and when he became 15 years old, his father, Gerard Sagrado, set out for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in his zeal. His party was assaulted by raiders and he died in the fight, fulfilling his dream to be buried in a sacred ground. The young son took his father’s name to honor his memory.
When he was 25, he was sent to Bologna to learn to be a tutor. He returned to Bologna at the age of 32 but could not teach for long, as he was soon elected as an abbey. He resigned after three years and went to the Holy Land.
His ship was caught in a storm on his voyage to Palestine and was forced to land, so he sought refuge in a Benedictine monastery. There he met Gaudentius, the abbey of Pannonhalma, who convinced him to help with his plans of establishing a monastery in Hungary.
Gerard, in the company of abbey of Pécs, Asztrik, went to King Stephen I, who hired Gerard to become the tutor of his only son, Emerich. He educated the young prince for seven years.
He moved to the hills and spent his following couple of years as a hermit, writing most of his books there, mainly readings of the Bible. In 1028 King Stephen I requested him to establish the diocese on the river Maros bank.
He progressed well with constructing churches and cleric schools, but the death of the king in 1038 changed everything. The throne was inherited by Stephen’s infamously anti-Hungarian nephew, Peter Orseolo, who was soon removed by a national uprising. The country jumped from the frying pan into the fire, as the tyrant Samuel Aba wished to become king. Gerard, however, refused to crown him.
He was celebrating a mass in a small town called Diósd when he had a vision about his martyrdom. His vision was right: on 24 September 1046, when he was going to Pest, his group was attacked by a band of Pagans. Gerard was dragged out of his carriage, pierced with pikes a couple of times, then they threw him down from the hill that was later named after him.
His written works and his deeds as a missionary inspired many clerical persons in both Hungary and Europe, and he played a vital role in establishing the Hungarian Catholic life. He was canonized as a saint in 1083.