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Living history: breathtaking Tihany Abbey

The Benedictine AbbeyTihanyBalaton

Sometimes, when you visit Lake Balaton, you should say no to freshwater swimming or try resisting lake-side delicacies, as the area offers countless beautiful and enjoyable sights to visit.

One town you should definitely have on your list is Tihany, not just because a few years ago it was chosen as Europe's most beautifully renovated settlement, but also because this is where one of the jewels of the Balaton, the Benedictine Abbey of Tihany, can be found.

Let’s start with the basics: who are the Benedictines?

In order to truly appreciate what you're seeing, it doesn't hurt to be familiar – at least in part – with the historical background. The Benedictine order was the first (and for a long time the only) monastic order of the Roman Catholic church and Christianity. They follow the Rule of St Benedict, who in the 6th century recognised that a monastic community must operate on the basis of its own uniform, mutually accepted set of rules. Although the Benedictines’ mission was always to spread the Christian faith and morality, during their existence they also greatly contributed to intellectual development by supporting religious sciences and church literature.

The location is a miracle in itself: the Tihany Peninsula

The Tihany Peninsula is one of the most beautiful regions in Hungary. The volcanic peninsula stretches into the lake on the northern shore of Balaton, near Aszófő . This is where the country's very first landscape protection reserve was established, which then became part of Balaton Uplands National Park. In addition to excitingly diverse shapes, the landscape’s geological sights are also very interesting, and include the thermal spring cones, which are unique in Europe, and came into existence as a result of post-volcanic activity.



The two faces of the Benedictine Abbey of Tihany

Entering the portal of the abbey church, you are greeted by an exquisite Baroque interior. The sight of beautiful paintings, detailed altars, breathtaking statues and the robust organ-loft will instantly put you in a state of sacral awe. You can now also view this from the comfort of your home: take a virtual 3D walk around the church. The ‘other face’ of the Abbey, however, is surprisingly simple: given that there is still a monastic community living here today, the interior of the monastery that serves as their residence is very modest, and almost puritan.

The life of monks today

If you think that the monks living in a monastery spend most of their lives resting, you are mistaken: they perform pastoral work locally and in nearby villages, organise exhibitions and concerts, conduct spiritual retreats, teach at the local Benedictine primary school and even make medicinal teas and candles. “Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something”, they say, striving to ensure that all members of the community spread the evangelical gospel with their own charisma.



The troubled history of the Benedictine Abbey of Tihany

The monastery was founded in 1055 by Andrew I. An interesting titbit of cultural history is that the founding charter of the monastery is the oldest Hungarian document preserved in its original form. The document’s Latin text also uses Hungarian words, making this the oldest written record in the Hungarian language.


The monastery has endured numerous blows over time. The first major changes for the building complex came in the 16th and 17th centuries: due to Ottoman attacks, monastic life was practically eliminated in Tihany, with soldiers taking their place in the monastery. Following the wars of liberation, the monastery passed into the ownership of an Austrian abbey, and was only taken back into Hungarian ownership in 1716. Although the reconstruction of the church and the monastery was restarted afterwards, a fire in 1763 hindered these efforts. The monks were then forced to abandon the monastery on two other occasions: once in 1786, and then again in 1950. The buildings were only returned to the Benedictine order in 1994, and comprehensive renovation works started in 1996 to ensure that the Benedictine Abbey of Tihany could be restored to the full glory you see today.

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