The “cross-bearing orb”, also known as simply the orb or the orb and cross, has been a Christian symbol of authority since the Middle Ages, used on coins, in iconography, and with the sceptre as royal regalia. What does the cross represent and when did Hungarian kings start using the orb? The Őseink Hagyatékai, Örökségünk Facebook page tells the story of the orb.

The wise men of ancient Greece already knew that the most perfect geometric form was the globe. They figured that the cosmos was made up of layered, etheric spheres – with planet Earth in the centre – that moved from time to time and held celestial bodies. This theory fell into oblivion, however, the globe became one of the ensigns of Roman emperors as it symbolised the perfect entirety of their dignity and their power over the world. According to Christian tradition, Constantine the Great avowed the power of Christ over himself and the whole of his empire after defeating his enemies with the help of God. Thus formulating a cross being put on the orb.

The rulers of the Holy Roman Empire took up the orb and the cross as their ensigns since they were desiring the glory of the onetime Rome. They accepted the explanations of Christian theologists, according to which, the orb symbolised three things. Firstly, the eternal divine mercy that is without beginning and without end, received by rulers during the anointing. Secondly, it warns that kings can also laugh on Friday, cry on Sunday and this is why it lastly reminds monarchs that they are mortal and earthly, just like everyone else, and that they can only hope for salvation brought by the cross. Ulterior Christian rulers took over the ensign with the same meanings.

orszagalma1And this was the case with Hungary as well. Our royal mantle is the evidence of this with Saint Stephen holding the orb in his left hand. The iron mounting of coins, stamp prints and pictorial depictions attest that the use of the orb was continuous throughout the years of kingship in Hungary. However, not all is well in the case of the orb.

According to the page, the orb we know today is a simple, undecked, a bit flatted, gilded silver globe. It is topped with a double-dagger made from metal plate with the same height as the diameter of the globe. There are small, triangular shaped enamelled coat of arms in the front part, back part and middle of the globe. What do these coat of arms tell us?

To start off, it is widely known that their original designation was the protection of fighters. The Hungarian coat of arms in particular joins the lily armour of the Anjou dynasty and the red-silver striped armour of the Árpád dynasty, which was already depicted on King Róbert Károly’s 1301 denarius. It seems like our orb is not older than this currency. But didn’t former kings have orbs?

Yes, they had. Saint Stephen is holding an orb in his left hand on the image of the royal mantle. But his globe only had a simple cross, even though we know that King Stephen owned a shrine with a splinter of Christ’s cross hidden in it. And these shrines (staurotheke in Greek) were shaped in the form of a double-dagger. As staurothekes are the indicative of Byzantium, it’s no surprise that they were mostly featured among royal ensigns when a Hungarian king had an eye on Byzantium.

This cross type appeared on the orb again when Róbert Károly sat on the Hungarian throne. He was a member of the Anjou dynasty which always wanted to take hold of the Byzantine Empire. But the orb decorated with Saint Stephen’s cross was snatched away along with the regalia by Anna, Princess of Macsó. This might be why King Róbert Károly was obliged to fabricate a new orb by the former pattern. With the simple appearance and the coat of arms he also signalled that this wasn’t the ancient ensign.

We don’t know a lot about the role the orb played in the coronation ceremonies. This is probably because the orb was somehow overshadowed in the Hungarian history. Maybe due to the way it was called. Even the first authentic transcription about King András III’s 1290 coronation called the globe a “golden apple” and this denomination remained according to chroniclers writing in Latin (“pomum aureum”). In Hungarian we still call the orb “országalma” which literally means “the apple of the country”.

szent korona

But in Middle Age Christian Europe the apple symbolised sin, death, evil with which the snake seduced Adam and Eve. In Latin, which was the language of the church, the world “malum” meant apple, sin, trouble, misfortune at the same time so it is understandable that the church stayed away from this ensign. But then if the church didn’t like this denomination, how could it remain the same throughout history?

The answer lies in the firmness of our ancient roots. In pagan beliefs, which are guarded by our folktales, the apple was the symbol of wealth, prosperity and fertility snatched away by dragons to afterlife, but then taken back to this world by the hero, who defeats the evil. And since in former times the biggest heroes were the leaders of a community, it seemed evident that the king, the ruler and commander of all, and who determines the prosperity and the happiness of the country, owns this golden apple. The story was told the same way even in times when it was obvious that many kings didn’t deserve the trust of the people.

Photos:, parlamentobudapest

Copy editor: bm


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