Hungary’s Weeping Icon of Máriapócs

by Erica Papp Faber

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Máriapócs, one of the smallest towns in Hungary (about 2,800 inhabitants), lies in the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Hajdúdorog, near the Ukrainian border. Despite its size, however, Máriapócs draws over half a million pilgrims annually to its Byzantine Catholic shrine, in which rests an icon of the Mother of God that has shed many tears in the last 300 years.

On 4 November 1696, the icon, commissioned by a man freed from Turkish captivity, began to weep for the first time. There was much cause for weeping.

Hungary was a divided nation. To the west and northeast, where Máriapócs was located, Royal Hungary, as it was known, was ruled by the Austrian Hapsburgs. They ruled their dominions with an iron hand, placing onerous burdens on the long-suffering Hungarians. To the south-east, the Hungarian province of Transylvania was autonomous, although under Turkish suzerainty. Muslim Turks also occupied the central plain.

The icon wept for two weeks. Many prayers were answered and many cures recorded. One of the most spectacular occurred when the Latin (Roman) Catholic priest of a neighboring village lifted a dying child to the weeping icon. The child touched the tears streaming from the Virgin’s eyes and recovered. The child’s grateful mother brought a necklace of precious stones to place on the icon. In time, such offerings covered the entire image.

On 8 December 1696, a day so cold the wine froze in the priest’s chalice during the Divine Liturgy, the icon began to weep again. Despite the bitter weather, the Virgin’s tears continued to stream for 11 days.

Church and secular officials examined the icon, questioning witnesses and experts. They determined the authenticity of the tears.

Meanwhile war ravaged the country. With the aid of Venice, Poland and other Western powers, Austria drove the Turks from all but one small corner of Hungary. But the victorious Hapsburg emperor of Austria, Leopold I, the de facto ruler of Hungary, was also determined to crush Hungarian dreams of independence. In February 1697, despite the objections of the faithful of Hungary, he ordered the removal of the icon to Vienna.

The journey there took several months, as people all along the icon’s route paid homage. Arriving in Vienna, the icon was received with great pomp and devotion and placed over the high altar of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Today it is enshrined at a side altar to the right of the cathedral’s main entrance. Curiously, the icon has not shed a tear since it arrived in Austria.

Nevertheless, in the course of the next 40 years, close to 300 cures and other miracles were attributed to the weeping icon the Austrians call Maria Pötsch. Outstanding among these was the defeat of overwhelming Turkish forces at Zenta in 1697, a triumph for which the entire Austrian populace had sent up prayers to the icon of Máriapócs.

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Tags: Pilgrimage/pilgrims Icons Hungary Byzantine Catholic Church