Interview with György Somogyi

György Somogyi is a literary translator and art writer who graduated from the Faculty of Arts of the Eötvös Loránd University Budapest and the Roman Catholic Academy of Theology. He has lived on a farm near Salföld since the 1970s. He was interviewed by our team member Lujza Nényei in the beginning of January 2021.

Lujza Nényei: When have the kermis festivities for Mary Magdalene’s Day restarted at the Pauline ruins of Salföld, how did you manage to revive this tradition?

György Somogyi: The word “again” in this case is uncertain, because we know that in 1475 this Pauline monastery, which was still alive at the time, received a kermis permit, but we do not know if it was really a place of pilgrimage. In the spirit of this permission, we thought, whether there was such a tradition or not, we wanted to create it. This first came to mind in 1990, when we had lived on the edge of the forest that hides this monastery ruin for more than 17 years, we went out there with our children regularly, we showed the way to many tourists. We thought we should somehow galvanize life into these ruins. We held our first kermis at the next Saturday to Mary Magdalene’s Day on July the 22nd, almost as a “family enterprise”.

The Mass was presented by the parish priest of Káptalantót at the time, Árpád Balogh, and our two eldest sons were servers. The following were Salföld locals Abrahámhegy holidaymakers. Since then, more than twenty priests have presented Holy Mass offerings here, nine of them on behalf of the Pauline convent.

L.N.: There are archival photographs in your booklet “Discovered Heritage - The Pauline Monastery in Salföld”, which show that the kermises used to include other cultural programs, what were they?

GY.S.: They are still around. I thought from the beginning that a lot of people were coming to the monastery, holidaymakers in the area who presumably didn’t go to church anyway, yet they were influenced by the spirit of the place. In any case, Mary Magdalene can be considered the patron saint of sinners, which is why we thought that we would associate some musical or artistic event with the Mass: we first invited singers and musicians, but there were several theatrical performances among the ruins and scientific lectures. Sure, we also attract many people year after year by having an after the Mass.

L.N.:What audience did the event attract in the past and would attract today, what connects these people?

GY.S.: I wouldn’t dare to say it’s a living community, although we know some people up close, many by sight, and there are more and more of them we don’t know at all, - since there are now 150-200 people gathering for farewells - but something still holds us together. Respect for the Pauline order, on the one hand, and the attraction to Gregorian chant, on the other, is the common ground, so I hope it is no exaggeration to speak now in more than just my own name. From the beginning, we sought to have Gregorian chanted among the ruins of the medieval church. The Nényei family, who were vacationing on Ábrahámhegy, helped in this, and it still helps today, but we can also count on Gábor Selyei and his choir.

L.N.: A more personal aspect, how did you find this place in the 70s?

GY.S.: Completely by accident: my brother, who is a painter, and several of our friends were working at the same place at the time, and we thought we were looking for a cheap farmhouse somewhere where we could vacation together. We found Salföld in an advertisement, we didn't know the area at all before, but the proximity of Lake Balaton was a special pleasure. Salföld was an abandoned village in the 70s, where our appearance was not a full success. We disturbed the quiet life of the village, we organized various events, which were started by the young people of the city. Over time, however, we have become accustomed here, a good relationship has developed between the natives and us. Then when I got married, my wife and I found a ruined press-house where we had only been going on vacation for a few years, then we moved here too, and our five children were already raised essentially here. This is one of the vineyards of Salföld, the house itself belongs to Ábrahámhegy, to which almost all the natives of Salföld have slowly moved, and their place has been occupied by city holidaymakers.

L.N.: You know quite a lot about the history of the monastery itself, could you tell us about it?

GY.S.: Before we started these kernisses, I worked at the Balaton Museum in Keszthely for a few years, and there I met Károly Sághy, who was the former director of the museum. It was then that I became more interested in the monastery - and tried to reconcile its surrounding legends with science. This is how the book “Discovered Heritage” was born, which has been worth three editions since 2014, the latest one was designed and edited by Miklós Petrovics, who also helps us organize the kernisses.

All we know is that the monastery was already standing in 1263, and by that time Pauline monks were already living here. Diplomas attest to the fact that they received a vineyard from donors in the area, they also had a fishpond where the brook Burnót now flows through the Kisörs sand mine - and until Turkish invasion it was a living monastery. In 1554, however, the Turks, after besieging the castles of Szigliget and Csobánc but could not take any of them, took revenge on this monastery. It was then uninhabited for a long time, then used for a short time by the Franciscans, and finally under Joseph the 2nd it became depopulated again as a result of his decree dissolving monastic orders.

L.N.: All in all, we can say that after two hundred years it was you, who galvanized life again into the monastery in Salföld.

GY.S.: This kernis has been a living tradition for 31 years now, 2019 was the thirtieth anniversary. The booklet also contains a Gregorian chant in Hungarian, which some of the pilgrims already know, and we teach others too. Father Teodóz Jáki, who discovered us in 2003 and said that he would come every year, even if we were not called, was a great help in teaching. That's what happened until his death. He was such an enthusiastic organizing personality! In addition to Gregorian Chant, he encouraged us to sing the most archaic folksongs and taught us beautiful Csango-Hungarian songs. This role has been taken over in recent years by Andrea Navratil, who sings Csango and Transylvanian prayer songs before Mass.

L.N.: What do you think about the future of the Salföld Masses?

GY.S.: It would be good to present a Mass in the old rite, or at least an ad orientem Mass, that is similar to the medieval liturgy. It didn’t even occur to us for a long time, but then there was a growing desire in many of us. This has mostly happened on the thirtieth anniversary, but hopefully not for the last time. Unfortunately, there are hardly any priests who still know the old rite, not to even mention Latin. It would be great to find someone at least, who would celebrate “ad absidem” - not towards the believers, but turning in the same direction with the believers, towards the eastern sanctuary - , to present the sacrifice that is not to the believers but for God. In the future, in line with the spirit of the place, we also want to revive this tradition. My old desire is even that a masterpiece of 18th century Hungarian literature, the school drama about the life of St. Paul the Hermit, entitled Paul, may once be premiered here, but so far I have not been able to find a theater company.