CAPSULE STORIES #1 - Ildikó Szommer


Interview with Ildikó Szommer, acting manager of the St. Martin Institute of Szombathely


What is your personal relationship or connection with St. Martin? How far is it a personal bond and how far is it the result of your assignment?

My first memories are that I used to go to St. Martin Church for Bible class. The next chapter in my life relating to St. Martin is organizing the first Martin’s day markets in the open-air museum in the 90’s where we rather focused on the folk traditions (duck, wine, weather forecasting etc.) Then we launched the Savaria Historical Carnival which put a great emphasis together with St. Martin on the antiquity and the Romans who established our city as far as the atmosphere and the programmes were concerned, especially in the first years. It was followed by my appointment as the main organizer of the St. Martin Anniversary Year in 2016 that is the 1700th anniversary of his birth and also my appointment as the manager of the St. Martin Office. This task included the process of learning and experiencing the values of the saint, a comprehensive mental and spiritual tuning in. This was the time when I started to look for places and relics related to St. Martin during my private trips as well and he more and more often appeared in my thoughts as an exemplary and guiding personality. As you can see, I have continuously met Martin during my work and parallel to this,he has gained a more and more important role in my private life as well. It was not one caused by the other, but the two processes reinforced each other. 

How does a year like St. Martin Year contribute to the spiritual development and to the strengthening of a community? Are there any measurable results (surveys, statistics) in this respect?

Unfortunately, a scientific survey was not prepared. On the other hand, so many institutions, organizations and private people joined the preparation and the implementation of the anniversary year that I am convinced that the average level of knowledge about St. Martin has increased. We reached the pre- and primary school children with the plays of Mesebolt Puppet Theatre. For the youngsters Weöres Sándor Theatre put an interactive play on Martin on stage with today’s technical instruments which was performed several times. The nearly 300 events of the anniversary year – though in terms of content not every of them was related to the life or the values of the famous saint - and the broad communication helped Martin’s name and his Szombathely background reach the local inhabitants. I may well think that a thorough and fundamental identity building happened this year. Only the continuation of this is missing. After 2016 we managed to maintain and repeat only a few events, but it is obviously true of all other special jubilees.

Can you see any new contributors or directions in the area of preserving St. Martin’s heritage?

I think that the leaders of the city play the most substantial role in this respect.Resulting from their professional and city management power and the available financial resources they could contribute to the maintenance and to the renewal of St. Martin’s cult to a great extent. The non-governmental organisations and the church have only restricted authority and resources. Also, for the Catholic Church Martin is only one of the many other important saints and they cannot prioritise Martin’s values and traditions for years. It is the leaders of Szombathely who - realising the significance of strengthening local identity - could do a lot for the recovery of the St. Martin tradition. I think there is a lot to do with tourism as well. Religious tourism and pilgrimage are booming but it would be better if they were organised not just by the church. Even if the St. Martin cultural route is too long to complete it at one go a trendy Martin-Camino could be created with the division of the route in sections, with propermarketing, with the collection of the existing services and the creation of new ones. However, I cannot see any other new player apart from the Hungarian Association ofthe St. Martin European Cultural Route. 

What do you think about the uncertainty of the legends on St. Martin’s life? Does it weaken the chance of the survival of the tradition or is it independent from thecertain, factual and historic legacy?

A good tradition can be independent from real, scientifically proved historic facts. Itdoes not weaken the value of the tradition. Legends are very significant identity building tools similarly to tales which play a very important educating and constructive role for our children. The content is important, what kind of inner moral value a tradition represents for the presence and what external attractiveness we can add to the tradition for today’s people – because we are more likely to reach the audiencewith some entertaining or instructive presentation. There are only a few facts on Martin we know, and we hardly have any chances to influence this. It is not good to start this way. We should rather examine what elements we can make attractive from our existing traditions and eventually what new elements we can create fitting the content and the spirit.