Mátraverebély-Szentkút can be found along the Slovak-Hungarian border in a multinational area, similarly to other shrines once belonging to the Hungarian Franciscans. These shrines with multinational priories, for example in Szentantal, Máriaradna (Romania), Baja (South-Hungary), and Frauenkirche (Austria) all served as meeting points for different nationalities and gave place to vernacular sermons.
Legend has it that as King Saint Ladislaus was fleeing from his enemies in 901-02, he arrived at a chasm. Survival was nearly hopeless from here, but he managed to leap over it with his horse, and that was the first time a spring appeared here.This legend reflects beautifully the Hungarian literary tradition which regarded Saint Ladislaus as the new Moses who gained water from the rock, and who gave a legislative frame to the Hungarian people just like Moses did to the Jews.
The first miraculous healing happened here around the 12th century when the Holy Mary appeared with Baby Jesus on her arm to a mute shepherd of Verebély. She ordered him to dig into the ground and drink from the water springing up. The boy did as she told him, and he regained his ability of speaking.
In 1210, a church had to be built in the village of Mátraverebély because of the great number of pilgrims who walked in procession to the miraculous spring in the valley of Szentkút. In 1258, this church already had the privilege to grant a plenary indulgence, and from the 1400s it already possessed the privileges granted only to the greatest pilgrimage destinations. In 1700, Pope Clement XI had a few miraculous healings from Szentkút examined, and he recognized them all.
The first stone chapel was erected in Szentkút in 1705. The current church together with the adjacent priory was built between 1758 and 1763 with the help of a hermit priest of Szentkút called Ádám Antal Bellágh as a token of his gratitude for János Almásy’s extraordinary healing. This church was honoured with the title “Basilica minor” by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
There had been hermits living in the caves of the hillside above the current church from the 13th century. The last hermit of Szentkút, Jozafát Dobát died in 1767. His tomb can be found in the basilica.
The shrine had been maintained by the Cistercian monks for a long time, but the Franciscans had also been taking part in guiding the pilgrims and providing pastoral care since the Ottoman rule of Hungary (16th-17th century). Although they became residents of the Szentkút priory in 1772 already, they permanently settled there only in the 19th century.
Due to Emperor Joseph II’s unfavourable religious reforms, the shrine started to flourish again only in the 1920s but its development was soon impeded again by the Communism. In 1950, the Communists drove the Franciscans away, nationalized the priory, and turned it into a nursing home.
The Order of Friars Minor returned to the shrine only after the change of the regime in 1989. That was the time when the exterior of the church was renovated, and the Franciscans could reclaim their former lands. This formed the basis of later developments.
The tradition of walking pilgrimages gradually became more and more popular from the 90s. Today, procession groups arrive not only from the surrounding villages, but also from longer distances. Between 15th-20th August, the Franciscan Youth Pilgrimage takes place with around 200-250 young people walking approximately 90 miles.
Cardinal Péter Erdő declared the shrine a National Shrine, the most important shrine of Hungary, on the Feast of the Assumption in 2006. The patron saint’s day of the shrine is the closest Sunday to the Feast of the Assumption.
The shrine was affiliated with the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in 2016, which provides unique privileges to Mátraverebély-Szentkút.
Because of the Communism, the shrine could not develop as much as other national shrines of Europe. However, the beauty of nature, the opportunity of encountering the Merciful Father in the communion, the sacrament of confession, the sermons, and the motherly love of the Holy Mary manifesting itself in the answered prayers seem to make up for this deficiency. Nowadays, around 200.000 pilgrims visit the shrine annually.
Many Hungarian and Slovak pilgrims come to us from South-Slovakia too. The Franciscans working here would like this place to become the site of rebirth. We would like pilgrims to experience the presence of divine goodness in the sacraments, and how the Lord is weaving up the threads of peace, forgiveness and solidarity from one person to the other. That is the reason why we are doing our best to welcome each person with fraternal love.