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EGER, Hungary (ChurchMilitant.com) - A new church named after Pope St. John Paul II has been built on the site of a former Communist estate in the history-laden city of Eger in northeastern Hungary.
Hungarian State Secretary Miklós Soltész said it is significant that the new church is built in a Communist-era housing estate designed to form the letters CCCP (Russian abbreviation for USSR) when viewed from the air.
"It was a major effort by the Soviet Union and communism to completely eradicate faith, religion and Christianity, and wherever new housing estates were built ... churches were not allowed to be built," Soltész said.
The naming of the church after the sainted pontiff also bears significance as had it not been for him, many maintain, Hungarians would still be "subjects of the People's Republic of Hungary."
The state secretary confirmed that 250 million forints ($830,700 U.S.) of the costs of the new church have been paid by the state, arguing that it is the government's task and obligation, where possible, to support efforts to build churches.
The people of Eger have long memories of many other foreign attacks and invasions — even if their fort did not provide such a magnificent reminder.
The Siege of Eger in 1552 by Muslim Turks represents one example of the persistence of Hungarians to preserve and protect their Christian faith and culture. The siege has become an emblem of national defense and patriotic heroism in Hungary.
Broadly, the battle is historically sandwiched between the crushing defeat of the Hungarian army at the Battle of Mohács in 1526 and the beginning of the end of Turkish domination in Eastern Europe at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.
It has become emblematic of the bravery of local peasant men and women whose lives were caught in the crosshairs of Ottoman and Austrian political and military power struggles.
The Turks had already conquered much of Hungary, and Eger became the protecting bulwark of the northern regions.
After Buda, the capital, had fallen to the Turks, they tried to extend their dominion northwards to the Carpathians in order to carry through outflanking movements towards Vienna in the west and the southern territories of Poland in the east.
Eger's fortress was already famous for its strength, built by Italian experts in fortification, and it guarded the valley which was a natural line of advance to the north.
Captain István Dobó led the Hungarian forces consisting of soldiers and local peasant men and women numbering 2,100–2,300 (according to many accounts). Kara Ahmed Pasha led the Muslim attack with soldiers numbering anywhere between 35,000–40,000 (old historical accounts) to 150,000–200,000 (according to newer historical accounts).
The Ottomans expected an easy victory, but their inability to break through the honeycombed tunnel system under Eger's fort showed their overconfidence. A homespun, yet effective, strategy used by the Hungarians during the siege was to have sentinels place peas on a drum.
Trembling of the peas alerted the sentinels to where the Turks were beginning to undermine the walls. The skill of one Gergely Bornemissza with explosives, the leadership of Dobó and the bravery of the defenders repelled the Ottoman assault.
The women of Eger especially made their mark on history during this battle. Stories of women who picked up their slain husbands' swords, who threw stones bloodied by the death of their mothers at the offenders and who threw down cauldrons of boiling water and tar onto enemy soldiers climbing ladders to invade the fort have become part of Hungarian oral history.
To this day, women of Eger are sometimes referred to as Egri szikra, meaning the "sparks of Eger," in reference to their ancestors' role in holding back the Turkish invasion centuries ago.
The women of Eger are also memorialized in a famous painting by Bertalan Székely in 1867 now in the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest.
The battle has also been documented in the Hungarian classic Eclipse of the Crescent Moon (the Hungarian title, Egri Csillagok translates to Stars of Eger), a work of historical fiction written by Géza Gárdonyi in 1899, and in a 1968 Hungarian historical film directed by Zoltán Várkonyi.
The Siege of Eger in 1552 is emblematic of Hungarian national defense and patriotic heroism in resisting the Ottoman Turks; the new St. John Paul II Church in Eger in its way is emblematic of the Hungarian people's endurance and triumph over the atheistic Soviet regime.
Soltész observed Hungary's running at cross-currents with Western Europe: "We are delighted that, contrary to the very sad western European practice of closing down churches and turning them into entertainment venues and gyms, Hungary is doing the opposite."
Recent visitors to Eger told Church Militant that remnants of pre-Communist Hungarian is still used in this ancient city; for example, a visitor might be welcomed to a shop or a home with Isten hozott, meaning "God brought you," something that would not have been uttered during Soviet occupation.