Monuments. Sacral (and “sacral”) monuments in the Carpathian Basin

Liszka, József: Monumentumok. Szakrális (és „szakrális”) kisemlékek a Kárpát-medencében [Monuments. Sacral (and “sacral”) monuments in the Carpathian Basin]. Komárom– Somorja, Fórum Kisebbségkutató Intézet– Etnológiai Központ, 2021, 702 p.

For nearly four decades, one of the most prominent aspects of József Liszka’s wide-ranging scientific interests and rich work has been the research of sacal monuments.1 This assertion holds true, even when viewed from the other way around: for decades, József Liszka has been a leading figure in the study of Hungarian (especially among Hungarians in Slovakia) sacral monuments. This fact implies that his endeavors have been fruitful, leaving an indelible mark and creative influence in virtually every facet of this specialized field of study.

Concerning primary research, he tirelessly roams the countryside, meticulously documenting our sacred small relics, cataloging their external characteristics and cultural context in which they are revered. With an aim to provide a platform for Hungarian research findings, he launched the Sacral Monuments Archive a quarter-century ago, offering a treasure trove of “descriptive cards” and a rich photographic collection. Over the years, Liszka has occasionally sat down at his desk to syn-

thesize fundamental research, his own and the observations of others, as well as insights from Hungarian and international literature. His comprehensive analyses shed light on various facets of the world of sacred small relics. In addition to his three books on this subject (Szent képek tisztelete [The Veneration of Holy Images], 1995; Állíttatott keresztínyi buzgó ságbul [Erected out of Christian Fervor], 2000; Szent Háromság egy Isten dicsőségére… [For the Glory of Holy Trinity One God…], 2015), he has contributed with over 50 articles to Hungarian and foreign journals and essay collections. Amid his diligent fieldwork and contemplations, he has also built other strong foundations: he is the founder of the Ethno logical Centre in Komárno (which prominently features folk religiosity among its areas of focus), serves as research coordinator, mentors fellow researchers, organizes conferences, and assumes the role of a journal editor.

All these diverse endeavors are now culminated in his recently published work titled Monumentumok [Monuments], where the author systematically reviews research findings related to sacral monuments of the Carpathian Basin. Given the varying depths and qualities of basic research available across regions, it is evident that Liszka’s primary focus lies in summarizing our knowledge of sacral monuments among Hungarians, par-

1 The Editor would like to point out to a translatological issue here: Hungarian term “szakrális kisemlékek” can be translated, literally, as “sacred small relics”, referring to the physical size of these monuments, i.e. that they are relatively small, definitely smaller than “big” monuments. Nevertheless, according to the Reviewer, term “sacred small relics” does not make much sense in English. Thus we use the term “sacral monuments” in this review, contributing perhaps to a scholarly discussion on the issue.

ticularly those in Slovakia and/or among Roman Catholic Hungarians. In some respects, the book offers more than just a monograph. On the one hand, it provides a glimpse into Liszka’s decades-long contemplations, reflections, and uncertainties as a researcher, transcending the conventional dry academic discourse. On the other hand, it sets forth a program, identifies research gaps, outlines directions, and introduces fresh perspectives. For instance, by placing the word “sacral” in quotation marks in the subtitle, Liszka not only suggests but also leaves open a phenomenon that challenges the traditional interpretation of sacral monuments: the question of public sculptures representing communal (national, political, etc.) sacredness outside the confines of conventional religious contexts.

In terms of sheer volume, Monuments is an imposing work. Divided into four chapters, it spans 514 pages, brimming with the author’s summaries, conclusions, and reflections. The text is accompanied by 438 illustrations, predominantly photographs, and an additional 188 pages are devoted to appendices, including an extensive bibliography, an image index, and references. The book does not provide summaries in foreign languages, but nonHungarian readers can gain insight into its structure and rich content by referring to the Slovak and German tables of contents.

The first chapter, titled “Módszerek, források, adatbázisok” [“Methods, Sources, Databases”], serves as the “textbook” section of the book, offering a meticulous presentation of the methodology and minimum requirements for successful fieldwork and documentation. Additionally, it introduces primary source types (archival materials, maps, engraving, postcards, etc.) and elucidates their significance and utilization. Through illustrative examples, Liszka guides the readers through the fascinating case study of two sacred small relics, unveiling their microhistories through archival images.

The second chapter, spanning nearly 100 pages, delves into the complexities of typology and terminology. Liszka first thoroughly examines and clarifies the concept of sacred small relics with a comprehensive review of international scholarly literature. The primary organizing principle of typology – supported by a review and critique of typological experiments known from international literature – is form, somewhat downplaying considerations of functionality and content. By emphasizing characteristics of form, he presents a comprehensive typological sequence that breaks away from folk and regional terminologies. With necessary refinements, this typological sequence serves the purpose of establishing a consistent, descriptive terminology system.

The third chapter, titled “Tartalom és forma” [“Content and Form”], extends over 300 pages and, this time, organizes the world of sacred small relics by content rather than form. It commences with representations of the Holy Trinity, progresses through sculptural works portraying the Holy Family and its members (Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and others), and extends to monuments representing the cult of individual saints. Starting with the most beloved saints in Hungarian folk religiosity, such as St. John of Nepomuk, St. Wendelin, and St. Florian, it explores a wide range of weather saints, plague saints, and helper saints, ultimately concluding with an exploration of the “territory of sacredness” represented by national patron saints (including saints of the Árpád dynasty, led by St. Stephen). Each subsection starts with recommended readings and a brief research overview, and after a discussion of cultural, religious, and devotional context, follows a discussion structured around iconographic types of representation. The subsections close with an examination of the geographical distribution and the elaboration of regional differences. The chapter concludes with an exploration of the phenomenon of the sacred depot (deponia pia) and its instructive interpretative possibilities, along with questions concerning the coloring of sacral monuments and the aesthetic value system within the community and monuments preservation.

In the fourth chapter, titled “Szoborsorsok” [“Fates of the Statues”], thought-provoking discussions emerge regarding the cultural history and the social and functional contexts of sacral monuments installations. This section also explores the adaptation of new forms in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the role of personal and collective selfexpression, which at times overshadow the religious dimension. Moreover, the author poses intriguing yet challenging questions concerning the origins and microhistories of individual small monuments: why they were situated in specific locations, why they were adorned with specific attributes, why they were subsequently relocated, and how did these changes collectively evolve within the community?

Monuments stands as an indispensable monograph that provides a wealth of knowledge and visual resources. It offers a comprehensive summary of the most significant research findings and analyses related to sacral monuments in the Carpathian Basin, with meticulous attention to their formal, functional, iconographic, and devotional aspects. The book systematically organizes our understanding of documented materials on sacral monuments in the

Carpathian Basin, providing a holistic view of their historical backgrounds, appearances, iconographic programs, and distribution within the Hungarian-speaking regions, and regional peculiarities in these cults and representations. It is our hope that Liszka’s book will serve as a wellspring of inspiration to researchers delving into the realm of sacral monuments, motivating them to further enrich the subject by addressing knowledge gaps, conducting further collections and studies, and exploring the theoretical questions and novel perspectives elucidated in this monumental work.

Attila Terbócs