Jászberény had been the district’s capital for centuries before the late 19th century and an important countryside town as many traders coming from the Balkans passed through it while going towards the northern parts of the country.
The city is first mentioned in 1357, during the times when Jassic people transferred from animal husbandry to farming and settled down in towns and villages. Jászberény quickly grows into the most populous city in the region by the late Middle Ages and the church soon takes its first steps to convert the mostly pagan population to Catholicism. After the initial success, the Pope agrees to have a monastery built for the Franciscan order in the city and the monks take up residence in 1472 along with the Clarisses.
The population was quickly converted to Catholicism in the coming decades, even losing their original language and instead starting to speak Hungarian. The church and the crown were satisfied with the results, but then another turning point came: the Reformation. The Reformed faith first appeared in Jászberény in 1541, and by 1553, the city broke into two parts: Jászváros (“Jassic city”) with its Catholic population and Magyarváros (“Hungarian city”) with its Reformed residents. The two parts were later reunited around 1588, and the Reformed church soon had to back down.
The Franciscan monastery of Jászberény - photo by Tamás Thaler at Wikimedia Commons
The 16th century was a turbulent era, not only because of the church, but also because the Ottoman Empire broke the Kingdom of Hungary into three parts. The Jászság was first occupied around 1552 and the Franciscans had to leave the city. The invading forces turned the monastery into a plank fort in 1567 and Jászberény was transformed into a so-called Khász-city, one which paid tax to the sultan but also had some privileges making it distinct from other towns and villages – the district’s capital found itself under a landowner for the first time in history.
By the late 1590’s and early 1610’s, the city had gone through a massive depopulation, almost becoming entirely abandoned thanks to the burdens imposed by the Turkish rule. The original population as well as others later started coming back to the city and the Roman Catholic church started recording baptisms, marriages and deaths in 1672. The Turkish occupation ended in the late 1600’s and the Jászság was again an independent district, although it would never regain its former glory.
King Leopold I (reigned 1657-1705) sold the district to the Teutonic Order in 1702, ultimately making its population servants of the order. Infuriated by this decision, the Jassic population joined and valiantly fought alongside Francis Rákóczi during his War of Independence (1703-1711). Although the war would be lost, the Jassic nation once again drew back to the half-millennia old military tradition of theirs which lead them to the Kingdom of Hungary in the 1200’s.
The district wasn’t bought back until the reign of Queen Maria Theresa. The Redemption (Redemptio in Latin and Redempció or Önmegváltás in Hungarian) of May 6, 1745 became the most iconic event in Jassic history. Residents of each town and city of the district were asked if they wanted to buy back land from the Teutonic Order and in the end, the entire district was purchased by the residents, who could keep their purchased land and pass it down through generations.
Jászberény and the district started prospering again. Greek merchants often visited the markets and some even settled in the city. Queen Maria Theresa established the Jász-Kun Hussar Regiment during the mid-1700’s. Religious life also prospered as the city’s residents witnessed an event that many believed to be a miracle. A huge hailstorm on June 27, 1747 washed away some earth in the city and the residents found a spring of clear water after the storm. Upon cleaning the spring, they uncovered a wooden holy statue and decided to construct a small well-house around it. After further discussion, they agreed to erect a chapel next to it which was finished in 1758. This became the fourth church in Jászberény and received the name Szentkút – or Holy Well in English.
Jászberény’s most famous resident was born on December 23, 1793 to a local pharmacist. Rozália Scheckenbach later changed her surname to Széppataki and became one of Hungary’s greatest actresses, known today to many by her married name: Déryné Széppataki Róza. Although Róza moved out of the city early, her memory and influence are still cherished by the residents today.
During the first part of the 1800’s, a curious relationship developed between the residents of the district and the Palatine of Hungary, Archduke Joseph (1776-1846). Joseph was the brother of King Francis (reigned 1792-1835) and the ispán (Latin: comes) of the Jassic people. He showed great interest in the district’s business and towards its people and this general familiarity led to him becoming a “friend of the Jassic people,” as he was called. He visited the Jászság nine times during his life, his last visit being in 1845, on the 100th anniversary of the Redemption.
Archduke Joseph passed away in 1846 and the Hungarian War of Independence broke out in 1848. Jászberény, as the capital of the Jászság, led the district’s mutual efforts to fight for an independent Hungary, although the district’s leadership had its own conflicts between the conservatives and the progressives. Nevertheless, the district joined the revolution and the residents who took up arms fought valiantly.
The fall of the revolution in 1849 brought oppression to the whole kingdom, but things started to ease up during the late 1850’s. The royal pair – the Emperor and King Franz Joseph and Queen Elizabeth (also known as Sisi) commenced their official tour of Hungary in 1857 and their first stop was in Jászberény. Franz Joseph had already visited the district capital five years before and enjoyed the residents’ hospitality so much that he decided to start off the tour by visiting the same city. The district organized a huge celebration for the visit and the king, after being greeted by the abbot of Kunszentmárton, replied in Hungarian. After attending a mass in the main church, the royal pair was escorted to the town hall where the priest of Jászapáti gave a speech. Meanwhile, local women were giving out cookies, local men cheese, and a black sheep was also given to the king among various other gifts.
Jászberény and the Jászság finally lost their privileged status after 1876, when the Kingdom of Hungary abolished privileged districts and every single area was incorporated into a modern county. The Jászság became the northernmost part of the newly founded Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county and it still part of the same county to this day.
jász – n. a Jász (Jassic) person; adj. Jassic
jászok – n. plural form of jász
Jászság – n. the Jász area
Jász kerület – n. the Jász district