The forgotten hero: John Hunyadi

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John Hunyadi (Iancu de Hunedoara) was the son of a noble family of Romanian ancestry and became a leading Hungarian military and political figure in central and southeastern Europe during the 15th century.

Before it became a principality, between the 12th and the 16th century, Transylvania was a voivodeship. Appointed by the monarchs, the voivodes were the superiors of all other counties in the province. John Hunyadi was appointed regent-governor of the kingdom of Hungary, voivode of Transylvania and he also assumed responsibility for the defence of the frontiers in 1441.

We are only a few years away from the fall of Constantinople and the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II plans to enslave the kingdom of Hungary. His first objective was the fort of Belgrade. The siege escalated into a major battle, during which Hunyadi led a sudden counterattack that overran the Ottoman camp, ultimately compelling the wounded Mehmed II to lift the siege and retreat. The city of Belgrade will fall only after 65 years in 1521, during the reign of Mehmed’s great-grandson, Suleiman the Magnificent.

John Hunyadi`s victories over the Ottomans prevented them from invading for decades not only the kingdom of Hungary, but Europe itself. For this reason he received from Pope Pius II the title Athleta Christi (Christ`s Champion) which is a political title that has been granted by Popes to men who have led military campaigns defending Christianity.

Although he survived the battle, Hunyadi fell victim to the bubonic plague, which flourished in the unsanitary conditions of the battlefield and died a few months after his victory. He was buried in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Alba Iulia – the oldest transylvanian cathedral.

John Hunyadi had two sons, Ladislaus and Matthias Corvinus. The latest was elected King of Hungary with the support of Pope Calixtus III’s legate Cardinal Juan Carvajal, who had been John Hunyadi’s admirer. It is said that it was the first time in the history of the kingdom of Hungary that a member of the nobility, without dynastic ancestry and relationship, mounted the royal throne.

John Hunyadi is usually linked to the noon bell ritual about which legend says that commemorates the victory of the siege of Belgrade which took place in 22 July 1456. But the truth is that Pope Callixtus III ordered that the bells of every European church to be rung every day at noon, as a call for believers to pray for the defenders of the city. After the victory, the pope didn’t withdraw the order, and even nowadays christians still ring the church bells at noon.

Due to the above-mentioned aspects John Hunyadi is a popular historical figure among Hungarians, Romanians, Serbians, Bulgarians and other nations of the region. So if you come by to visit his tomb, take your time and enjoy also the beautiful citadel of Alba Iulia that hosts the eternal sleep of this hero.

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