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Back on New Year’s day, we made an attempt to check out the ruins of an old church on the outskirts of the village of Zalavár, not far from the site of an old Benedictine Abbey. But the fields were wet and we hadn’t brought the wellies. Last week, more suitably attired, we made a second attempt. And this time, succeeded.

Zalavár Récéskút bazilika

There’s something very therapeutic about sloshing through puddles in wellies. It was cold. Very cold. But nothing had iced over. It was just wet. Very wet. What would appear to be the makings of a natural tree tunnel marked our way. The trees, bare in winter, will be quite something to see when they’re leafed up and budding. I had thought there was a fancier word for a tree tunnel but it escapes me. In googling it, though, I found mention of a famous one in Northern Ireland that features in Game of Thrones.  Who knew!

Zalavár Récéskút bazilika

It was all a little enchanted-forest like. At around 4pm, the light was failing but the sun was hanging on for dear life. The silence was loud enough to lose a whisper. And the place had a sense of holiness going on that might well have been a figment of my imagination but nonetheless real. At the end of the tunnel stands a cross – a basic wooden post and steel crossbar. To say I was disappointed doesn’t even come close. This was it? This was all there was to see?

Zalavár Récéskút bazilika

Zalavár Récéskút bazilika

That the sign at the base of the cross was translated into German and not English is testament to the connection Zala county, and Zalavár, has with Germany. More often than not, when hearing my pathetic attempt at speaking Hungarian, the locals figure out that I’m a foreigner and launch in to German. It’s their second language. I had enough Hungarian to get that the original church dates back to 840 AD and on that same site, another basilica was built in the sixteenth century. But what? Where?

Zalavár Récéskút bazilika

I turned right and there it was. As usual when confronted with old ruins of times gone by, I’m gobsmacked that they’ve survived. Further research tells me that the church itself was built on the remains of a burned-out Slavic settlement and that’s what dates back to 840 Zalavár. And in total, three churches were built at various times. And, apparently, that last one is similar in shape to temples built on the coasts of North Africa or Italy – depending on what you read 🙂 I was quite taken by what looked for all the world like a big stone barrel laying on its side.

Zalavár Récéskút bazilika

Zalavár Récéskút bazilika

We had our three wishes – a church is a church is a church when it comes to the three wishes for a first-time visit rule – and stood for a while in silent contemplation. Discovered back in the 1940s, it really is a lovely spot. Zalavár and its surrounds are rich in history; back in their heyday they must have been quite the hub of activity. With renewed government focus on the Kis-Balaton (as evidenced by the tourist banners and ads in the airport arrivals) perhaps the church will see more by way of visitors this summer.

If you’re visiting Hungary, remember, there’s far more to the country that just Budapest.

Zalavár Récéskút bazilika

 
 

 

I’m a great fan of Oscar Wilde and one of my favourite plays is The Importance of Being Earnest. I’ve been known to bet on a horse just because its name reminds me of something or someone I like to remember. I’ve been known to drive miles out of my way to see what is behind a curious place name. So when I discovered that the neighbouring village of Zalavár was once known as Moosburg, I laughed aloud. The Alaska me had come full circle.

Driving around the lake recently, we went in search of the museum signposted on the road to Sármellék. We had passed it once before and I’d noted the funny-looking church that I’d mentally added to my Lake-Church photo project. Not quite sure what to expect, what we did find was remarkable.

The history of Zalavár dates back to about 840 AD. At the turn of the twelfth century, it became the county seat, long since relinquished to Zalaegerszeg. Around that time, the Benedictines built an abbey and monastery there and over the centuries other private estates grew in the area. The history reads like a saintly Who’s Who with the likes of Adrian,  Cyril, Methodius, and Benedict all getting an honorable mention. Various churches and chapels were built and dedicated and then razed in the battles and wars that ensued: The martyr Adrian’s Church, the Chapel of St Stephen, the Church of the Blessed Virgin, and a church with no patron at all.

Looking out over the fields at the remnants of the foundations, it doesn’t take much to imagine Zalavár as a thriving metropolis, a far cry from the sleepy village it is today. That so much has survived the ages is a miracle. Excavations over the last 60 years or so have yield a treasure of antiquities that flesh out the history of what was once a very important place indeed. So whether it was Moosburg or Mosuburg or Mosaburg (depending on what you read), Zalavár is worth a second visit when the museum opens at the end of this month.