Two quotes I always keep in mind while traveling around Hungary have come from a couple of my favorite travel partners. They came from my wife and mother in law. My wife once said, “there is something to see in every town and village in Hungary.” To my pleasant surprise I have discovered this to be true on innumerable occasions. Even the most downtrodden village almost always has a church or monument worth visiting. If nothing else, there are the atmospherics of the village with the cock’s crow echoing down dusty streets throughout the day and the sound of bicycle wheels spinning as the villager’s slowly traverse broken pavement. When it comes to travel within Hungary, my wife’s mother sees things very differently.
Though she is quite proud of my interest in Hungarian history, I have often driven her – quite literally – to distraction while traipsing around the countryside in search of some obscure historic site that she feels could not possibly be worth the bother. It was such a journey along country highways in Hungary that caused her to exclaim in frustration, “he stops and looks under every bush.” This was said after we got lost three times in search of a county boundary line. It was a backhanded compliment that I now wear as a badge of honor. I am sure much of my mother in law’s frustration comes from the fact that I have been known to go off course on a trip at the slightest hint of a historic site. Such a side journey brought us a memorable visit to the village of Feldebro and its Aprad Era (11th-12th century) church in the Tarna River Valley located in north central Hungary.
A Historic Treasure – Going Back In Time
The journeys usually start with a castle. I scour the map of northeastern and north-central Hungary for any castle within driving distance of my mother-in-law’s home in Debrecen. This has yielded fantastic day trips to castles in Sarospatak, Fuzer, Regec, and Holloko, among other places. The more we do these trips, the less castles there are to visit in these regions. Somehow, I always manage to find another castle that I overlooked. This was how I found Sirok Castle, a magnificently evocative pile at the eastern extent of the Matra mountain range. Getting there was not nearly as difficult as it had been in traveling to some of the other castles in mountainous areas of Hungary. We took the M35 and M3 motorways west from Debrecen, then took an exit to a rural road which led us northward through several villages and towns that seemed to run from one right into another. Along the way we passed through the village of Feldebro (pop. 1000), but I was so focused on Sirok I did not notice anything special about the village. The opposite was true on our return journey.
After visiting Sirok Castle we went back to the town of that same name where we enjoyed a late lunch at a lively restaurant. This respite gave me a chance to pursue my favorite pastime, studying my Cartographia Hungary Classic road map. It showed a red star next to Feldebro, meaning there was a monument, building or church of historical interest in the town. I fixated on that red star. At the very least it was worth investigating the side streets in Feldebro to find out what the red star denoted. Sure enough as soon as we got to Feldebro, I noticed a tall steeple back off the main road. The steeple rose above the village’s cube houses with rust red shingles. I turned us off the main street onto a side road that would take us in the direction of the steeple. I could see my mother in law already frowning. Here I was looking under another bush, but this search yielded a treasure of truly historic proportions.
Positively Medieval – Medieval Hungary Between East & West
We pulled in front of St. Martin’s Church, a structure that looked positively medieval because it was. There was the stone church and a unique sub church. The former had been imposed upon the latter. The sub church was recognizable by the stones climbing a quarter of the way up the church’s façade. They had a different coloration. This part of the church had been part of the original Arpad Era structure. It was one of the few that had managed to escape complete destruction during the Mongol invasion in 1241. On this day, the church was closed. Unfortunately, we had no luck finding anyone who could open it to let us see inside. It would have been awe inspiring to view the medieval frescoes that still adorn the walls. Nevertheless, we were able to walk around the church. I snapped a series of stunning photos showing the church from several angles in the mid-afternoon light.
The church was made more dramatic by the fact that the immediate area around it was clear of foliage. Its situation gave the church a dominant presence, dwarfing the viewer. It was a humbling experience to stand outside those walls with the knowledge that the church’s founding went all the way back to the early days of Christianity in Hungary. Uniquely, the church was laid out in the style of a Greek cross. This signifies Eastern Byzantine influence. The tug of war for the spiritual soul of Hungary between East and West plays out in the architecture of the church. The sub-church being subsumed to the rest of the church. This could be seen by the metaphorically inclined as the sub-Church being a stand in for eastern Christianity and the rest of the church as an imposition of western Christianity. Architecture like art, ultimately reflecting history.
Beating The Bushes – Steeple Chase
The church also has a fascinating historical importance due to one of Hungary’s earliest kings, Samuel Aba (reigned 1041 -1044) having once been buried here. This added gravitas to an already weighty history. The Aba family’s extensive landholdings included Feldebro. The church was used for family burials. Of course, time changes everything, including the history of an area. Feldebro was for one shining period at the heart of Hungarian royalty. Now it was a provincial backwater, a typical Hungarian village, but with one asset that had lasted the test of time. St. Martin’s Church was worth every bit of the time we spent there. It proved what my wife had said about there always being something to see in every Hungarian village. All you need to do is look under a bush or in the case of Feldebro, for a steeple floating in the sky.
Click here for: The Tour Less Taken: Nadasdy Castle In Nadasladany (Rendezvous With An Obscure Destiny #22a)