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The Pathway of Maria Széchy - The Legend of the Venus of Muráň

There was a story to be told at the beginning. A story is almost perfectly romantic. There was a lady, a beautiful and rich woman. He, a mighty and glorious man, the second only to the king. And what’s left? Nothing. Or, maybe something? The story and the places where it all happened remained. The story of Muránská Venus and the hiking trail of Mária Szécha.

The red hiking trail - the trail of Mária Szécha follows the original inter-castle route road from 1644 between the castles Fiľakovo and Muráň. It was named after the second wife of the palatine František Wesselényi, Mária Szécha, known as the Venus of Muráň who was the second lady of Hungary as the palatine's wife after the queen for many years. The route starts at Muráň Castle, continues over the hill Tŕstie to Rimavská Sobota, then through Cerová Vrchovina mountain it comes to Fiľakovo. To places where it leads you can spot several sacral monuments, castles, and important archaeological sites. On one part of the route leading to the cadastre of Hnúšťa town, an educational trail was built in 2021. It focuses on interesting moments in history that took place there.

The Mária Szécha Road copies the original route, which in the past was a relatively busy artery, lined with farmsteads, serf settlements, and solitudes. Nowadays, roads lead through the valleys and the mountains cross as far as possible. In 1644, the road led right here, along the ridges of the mountains. Not knowing why. Probably the roads along the ridges of the hills were more gradual at that time - fords were often used for crossing the rivers, which were often impassable. The path along the ridges was also safer - the wanderer was provided with a good view of any impending danger. It was in the middle of the 17th century - a century that was full of wars and fighting. In addition to the constant attacks from the Ottoman Empire and the ongoing 30-year war, Hungary was swept away by state uprisings. The forests were roamed by the remains of the scattered armies, runaways, and gangs of robber knights.

At first glance, this place may seem ordinary to you. But maybe this is where Mária Széchy stopped her horse almost 400 years ago. With her eyes, she measured both valleys of the Rimava and Blh rivers. When she was sure that there was no danger in sight, she continued her 83-kilometer route to Fiľakovo Castle to be with her lovely, Hungarian palatine. A story so powerful that not even over time did it disappear from people's awarness. The relentlessness of their love is still alive today. You can learn about their whole romantic story on information board number 4 in the saddle of Brezina.

 

The legend of Venus of Murány

You have surely heard many stories about great lovers and their aching souls. This story is about a woman who was called Venus even during her life because of her beauty. Mukačevo castle had its Elena Zrinska, Čachtice its Elizabeth Bathory, Levoča its White Lady. In Muran, one of the most beautiful women of 17th century Hungary ruled - Maria Schezy.

 

If Maria lived today, she would, like a real celebrity, rule unrivaled for all the years in all the media of the former monarchy. The prominent star scepter would rightfully belong to her - for many years, as the palatin´s wife, she was the first lady of Hungary, right after the queen. She obtained and defended the famous Muran castle - a variety of men sieged the castle in many different eras and one important nobleman even climbed in every night by a rope ladder because of her. The impregnable Gemer fort was not the only one where men congregated armies because of her - another one was the Deva castle in Romania. Maria survived a lot of drama. From her mother’s side of the family, she was a granddaughter of the infamous countess Elizaeth Bathory. Her father was brutally murdered.

Three of her brothers and one younger sister died. She was married three times. She was once released from a failed second marriage, which was an unprecedented rarity for the times she lived in. Two of her husbands and children also died. In love, she was a successful rival of the famous Zofia Bosniakova. She was an ambitious insurgent, and she successfully led and commanded the defense of her own castle, but she also became a pathetic political prisoner in her long-term internment. Many legends, songs, ballads, poems and novels are written about her.

 

Maria was born in 1610 at Blh Castle, of which the last ruins can still be found in Cierna obora near Teply Vrch. She spent the years of her childhood at Muran Castle, which belonged to her family since 1612. Her father Juraj Szechy had the castle rebuilt as today´s third highest situated castle in Slovakia to a manor residence that was protected sufficiently by high rock cliffs. Maria was brave from a young age – she used to be a faithful companion beside her father while hunting, fishing, she knew how to handle hunting dogs and she also excelled in horse riding.

 

At the age of 17, she married Stefan Bethlen. In 1628 she gave birth to her daughter, who died at age two. One year later, her husband Stefan Bethlen also died, so in 1634 she married for the second time, this time to Stefan Kun. However, she had misunderstandings with her husband, so she escaped from him to Deva Castle in today’s Romania. The reasons for their failed love are unknown, but what is more interesting for our story is that Kun wanted to bring her back home using violence, so he sent his soldiers after her. According to this event, Maria chasing by 250 hussars who wanted to besiege the castle where she took refuge, succeeded the legend about a brave countess has arisen. The husband´s unsuccessful attempt to seduce her then served him as a reason for their divorce, which, at those times, was a great rarity.

 

After her mother's death, Maria returned from Detva to Muráň, where the husband of her younger sister Eva Gabriel Ileshazi was ruling. Muráň Castle was one of the most important fortresses in our country, which is the best proven in previously mentioned Hungarian uprisings. There were 6 of them; the first uprising of Stephen Bocskay began in 1604. The last uprising of Francis II Rákóczi ended in 1711. Our story is tied with the uprising of Juraj I. Rákoczi (1643 - 1645). The family of Széchy took the side of insurgents and emperor Ferdinand III. authorized the captain of castle in Fiľakovo Ferenc Wesselény to obtain Muráň Castle. That is another major story that gave Maria Széchy the nickname the Venus of Murány.

 

The legend has been preserved thanks to a friend of Maria Széchy, the writer Stefan Gyöngyösi, who described the story in the book “The Venus of Murany and her love for Mars.” He describes the  grief of Maria Széchy, who felt like a prisoner in the Murán Castle, managed by her sister’s husband and who wanted to get the castle for herself. Ferenc Wesselény decided to take advantage of her loneliness in taking over the castle for emperor. He wrote her a love letter, to which Maria replied and they arranged a meeting. “Next Saturday I expect your Highness on a road to Tisovec – where the stream flows into the valley. I will come with a few of my servants to catch fish.” Wesselény came by remote routes, so he wouldn't meet anyone. The beautiful Mary appeared on horseback in an embroidered hunting suit in the company of two court ladies and jumped lightly down from the horse. Wesselény laid down his cloak, fell on one knee and, and asked Mary for the castle for the king and her hand for himself. Maria replied: “If God wants me to be yours, I will be your wife with sincere love and devotion. And I will do my best, so you can get the castle of Murán with me. But there are 600 soldiers devoted to Juraj Rákoczi."

 

When she returned to the castle, after thinking for a long time, she obtained ladders and gave an order for some long ropes to be woven. She did it under a charming pretext: it is rude of her to dry her clothes under the supervision of soldiers and servants; she wanted to hang them in the castle attic. Then she looked at the terrain well and chose a place below the northern wall, where the rock wall was the lowest, but still about twenty meters high, and well-hidden at the foot, in the greenery. On the agreed night, in the early morning, Vesselényi and about twenty men climbed the ropes to the castle and quietly entered Maria’s apartment through the window. They opened the castle gate and occupied the castle with the rest of the army.

 

This took place at the beginning of August 1644 and already on August 6th they married a happy couple in the chapel of the manor house in Jelsava. Maria was 34 years old; Frantisek was a recent widower (his first wife, the famous Zsófia Bosnyák, died on April 28th, 1644). Historical sources say that the marriage of Mary and Francis really succeeded. They were already mature enough - Maria was 34 and Frantisek 39 years old. In her correspondence, the husband gently addressed Mary as the brightest (clarissima) and the sweetest (dulcissima), and they lived together in harmony and happiness for almost 20 years. Count Wesselényi soon became the chief captain of the Hungarian mountain troops and in 1655 the Hungarian palatine, which is right after the emperor the post of the highest dignitary of the country. He also became famous as one of the commanders of the imperial army, which in 1664 stood at St. Gotthard's Turk and stopped them in a dangerous advance to Vienna. His Maria, as the palatine's wife, was the second lady of Hungary, right after the queen, and the castle of Murán became one of the most prominent addresses in the country. During this period, the historic path of Maria Szechy was also created. She often traveled to the Filakovo Castle by that path to her palatine. It is the path that we are standing on right now. The beautiful Maria and her husband lived their star life years in glory and abundance. It is important to mention that they continued in the spirit of Zofia Bosniakova's legacy and also that they didn't forget about the poor. For example, they founded the first hospitals in Muran, Jelsava and Pohorela. It might have been like a fairy tale - Maria and Frantisek lived happily ever after

 

… but history has its own winding paths. King Ferdinand III died in 1657 and Leopold I ascended the throne, ceasing to hold the Golden Bull issued by king Andrew II, and raged against the nobility of the whole country. In addition, Leopold I made peace with the Turks in 1664. The hero of cruel anti-turkish struggles, the palatine Wesselenyi, accepted the contract with the Ottoman Empire as a betrayal and rudely criticized the emperor for the shameful peace of Vasier. Subsequently, Wessellenyi led the conspiracy of prominent insurgents. It consisted of nobles from the most famous families such as Zrinsky, Nadasky, Torkoly, Rakozci and others. Their “rebel plans” were made right at the Muran Castle. If Wessellenyi´s uprising was successful, he could have occupied the royal throne. However, this didn't happen, and he unexpectedly passed away on the 27th of March 1667 in Banska Bystrica. The death of the palatine brought fatal disagreements to the ranks of anti-Habsburg rebels, and the uprising was exposed.

 

Maria buried Szechy in the chapel of Muran Castle. She lost her beloved husband, her happiness, and the opportunity to become queen. After the death of her husband, she was sad and worried about her life and the fate of the castle. The royal army was also attracted to Muran in order to occupy the castle and arrest Maria. For more than a year, Maria was defending the castle, negotiating, writing letters to the Viennese court and trying to prove her innocuousness and that she had no role in the conspiracy. "Where the greatest danger lay - on the blasted walls and where the attacks were taking place - was seen the Countess Maria standing among the defenders, giving them courage to fight. As soon as the Venus of Muran, as they called her, appeared among the soldiers and they saw that their Amazon was with them, new strength was awoken even in the most exhausted, and the soldiers began fighting again,” – that is what is stated about the last defense of the castle in the legend written by Gustav Reuss.

 

In reality, after months of siege, the castle without supplies could no longer withstand it, and Maria made the decision to accept the offer to surrender. In exchange they promised her freedom and good treatment, but she was deceived - instead, they interned her and deprived her of her property. On February 13, 1671, she was transported in handcuffs, first to Bratislava, then to Vienna, where she remained in the monastery for another eight years. In October 1676 she was pardoned, and she left Vienna to go to her brother-in-law to the town of Köszeg. She died on July 18, 1679, at the age of 68 and is buried in a Jesuit monastery in this town on the Hungarian-Austrian border. Her wish to rest beside her husband Frantisek was not fulfilled. Along with the death of Maria Széchyi, the glory of Muran Castle also faded. In 1682, Imrich Tököli, the leader of another Estates´ uprising, snatched it from the imperial hands. It burned down twice in the 18th century and remained uninhabited. The leader of the last Estates´ uprising, Francis II. Rákoci gifted only the ruins of the former palaces to his general Berčéni.

 

Maria Széchy, The Venus of Muran, became the heroine of many literary works.  Many authors have written about her. For example, Alois Jirásek, Božena Němcová, Gustáv Reuss, Ľudovít Kubáni, Samo Chalupka, Samo Tomášik and others. In Hungarian literature, besides Gyöngyösi, it was mainly Petőfi, Jókai, Kisfaludy, Arany, Tompa, Móricz and others who made her name known.

 

Preklad: PaedDr. Zuzana Vojteková, študenti EGT Tisovec (bezplatný preklad v rámci štúdia)