Bones of saint king of Hungary identified in ossuary jumble

Archaeologists have identified the bones of Saint Ladislaus, 11th century King of Hungary, amidst a jumble of bones from more than 900 individuals, stored in an ossuary in Székesfehérvár, central Hungary. This makes him the only known saint to have relics that are scientifically confirmed as his osteological remains.

Now on the grounds of an early 20th century architectural fantasy dubbed Bory Castle, the ossuary was connected to the city’s basilica whose remains are open to castle visitors as the Medieval Ruin Garden. The basilica was the heart of the capital of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. Thirty-seven kings were crowned there and 15 of them buried there. The crown jewels of Hungary were kept there. The Holy Crown of Hungary was kept there. The literal throne of Hungary was kept there. The cathedral was pillaged by invading Ottoman forces in 1543 and the royal graves plundered. Only the tombs of King Béla III (r. 1172-1196) and his first queen consort, Anna of Antioch, were left undisturbed.

Researchers from the University of Szeged extracted DNA samples for 400 bone remains and compared them to DNA they had previously recovered from the remains of King Béla III. The DNA testing matched the bones of Saint King Ladislaus to those of his descendant from five generations later.

King Ladislaus I ruled Hungary from 1077 until his death in 1095. He was a warrior king, stabilizing a country riven by religious and political conflict in the wake of King Stephen I’s attempt to Christianize the kingdom in the beginning of the 11th century. He finished the job Stephen had started, forcibly suppressing traditional religious practices and firmly establishing Christianity as the sole religion of the realm. When he conquered Croatia, he did the same there.

A supporter of the Papacy in the Investiture Conflict between Pope and Holy Roman Emperor, the King founded monasteries and churches, and directed the establishment and operation of bishoprics in all of his territories. He was getting ready to go on crusade when he died. For his efforts in spreading Christianity both at sword-point and as an effective administrator, he was canonized by Pope Celestine III in 1192. Because he was born and raised in Krakow after his father, King Bela I, was forced by a rebellion to flee Hungary, Ladislaus would become the patron saint of Poles living in Hungary.

The DNA study of the ossuary remains also revealed the bones of Andrew II of Hungary, son of Béla III and Anna of Antioch. They plan to identify even more Hungarian royals using a DNA sample from John Corvinus (1473-1504), natural son of King Matthias (1443-1490) and his mistress, and from the skull of Mary of Hungary, Queen of Naples (ca. 1257-1323).

The ultimate goal is to recover the bones of royal family members and rebury them in marked graves. A secondary goal is to make facial reconstructions of the kings of Hungary. All of the skulls recovered from the ossuary have been scanned for that purpose. Combined with DNA information on hair/eye color, the reconstructed faces will then be made available to view through VR devices.