In 996 Grand Prince Géza invited monks to settle on his estate; in doing so he effectively sowed the seed of Christianity in what was mainly a heathen Magyar kingdom. According to local tradition this spot was chosen for the abbey because St Martin, its patron saint, was born in the year 316 in the neighboring Roman castle of Savaria Sicca (although some say that he was in fact born in the Roman town of Savaria, now Szombathely). In 1001 King Stephen officially founded the abbey and vested it with land and wide privileges equal to those enjoyed by the parent abbey of Montecassino in Italy.
During the time when such spiritual bodies were secularized, especially in the 16th C, some prominent church politicians sat on the abbot's chair in the abbey, including even Cesare Borgia, a descendant of the famous Italian family of that name and the son of Pope Alexander VI.
During the Turkish wars the abbey became part of the front line of defense in Gyor, was besieged several times and finally burned down in 1575. It was rebuilt in 1699 after the Turks had withdrawn; the Classical additions and renovations which now characterize the building were carried out in the early 19th C.
Like many Benedictine monasteries, the abbey stands proudly on the top of a mound, in this case St Martin's Mount. The entrance to the massive complex is in the south, between the grammar school and the residential quarters. After passing through a number of adjoining courtyards the visitor will arrive at the abbey forecourt, from where there is a magnificent view of the Bakony Forest and the Little Plain. The façade is dominated by the west tower, 55m (180ft) high and built by János Packh c 1830. The entrance to the three-story church is through the door to the right of the tower.
The present church stands on the site of two previous buildings. Of the first, founded in 1001, only the crypt foundations remain, while the red-marble fountain in the cloister is all that survives of the second building which was erected in 1137 after its predecessor had burned down.
Under Abbot Urias a new Late Romanesque/Early Gothic edifice was built in the early 13th C and consecrated in the presence of King Andreas II in 1224. The triple-aisled, groin-vaulted basilica betrays elements of Cistercian architecture - such as the flat end to the choir, for example - with which the architect had become familiar during his stays in Italy. The crypt below the choir, with its beautiful vaulted ceiling supported on round pillars, also dates from this period and is typical of such Benedictine places of worship. Tradition has it that the niche-seat in the west wall was used by St Stephen, but in fact it is of a later date. The Late Gothic vaulting in the choir and the north side-chapel are the result of renovations carried out by King Matthias in 1486. At the same time he had the cloister built which adjoins the church on the south and is very similar in style to the courtyard in the Royal Palace of Visegrád. The figures on the corbels of the cross-vaulted roof represent the human virtues and vices, such as Humility (head of a cow), Sensuality (a female face) or Vanity (a grinning caricature). Also worthy of note is the pillared door which was uncovered during restoration work to the south wing of the cloister, the entrance to the refectory (no admission). The monks entered the south side-aisle of the church through the "Porta Speciosa"; with its slender pairs of pillars in red marble and white limestone capitals. This is artistically the most important part of the cloister and one of the few Romanesque decorated doorways in Hungary which have survived the ravages of time. The scene portrayed in the tympanum shows St Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar (19th C), recognized as the key to his way of life.
In the north wing of the convent lies the library and magnificent Library Hall, designed by Franz Engel and Johann Packh c 1830, when the west tower was built. The hall ceiling is enhanced by a fresco by the Viennese artist Josef Kleber which shows Minerva, the protectress of the Arts and Sciences. The library boasts a collection of some 330,000 books, manuscripts and incunabula, making it one of the largest religious libraries in Hungary. Of special importance are the documents kept in the archives relating to the history of the state of Hungary and the foundation charter in Latin of the Benedictine abbey in Tihany (see Lake Balaton) dated 1055, in which there appear for the very first time a considerable number of Hungarian words and suffixes. This makes it the oldest written example of the Hungarian language.
Adjoining the library is an art gallery and a small museum with exhibits ranging from early history to the Middle Ages.
8:30am-4:30pm; Closed: Sun