This is not a particularly revelatory piece of trivia, but the story I’m going to tell makes an interesting case study in the methods of alternative historians. In discussing Charlemagne’s UFO legislation yesterday, I came across another medieval passage about a different king that has made the rounds of ancient astronaut and UFO websites and is another instance of fabrication combining with repetition to create a fake historical incident. In Wonders in the Sky, Jacques Vallée asserts that King Stephen of Hungary was lifted bodily into the sky by angels in a flying tent.
King Stephen (Istvan), who lived from 975 to 1038, and was crowned King of Hungary in 997, was said to be lifted to the sky with some frequency. His biographer, Chartruiz, Bishop of Hungary, revealed that this sometimes happened spiritually and at other times physically. On one occasion, as detailed in Chartruis’ Life of St. Stephen, King of Hungary. “While praying in his tent, he was lifted into the air by the hands of angels.”
My first thought was to do a Google search for this “Chartruiz,” and do you know what I found? Nothing. Now why is that? So my next step was to turn to Vallée’s acknowledged source, Ebenezer Cobham Brewer’s 1901 A Dictionary of Miracles. There you’ll find all of the information Vallée knows about the subject.
St. Stephen, king of Hungary, lifted into the air in prayer (979, 997-1088). The spirit of St. Stephen, king of Hungary, was often lifted up in communion with God, and sometimes his body followed, being buoyed into the air. One day, while praying in his tent, he was lifted into the air by the hands of angels, and so remained till his prayer was ended.— Chartruiz (bishop of Hungary), Life of St. Stephen, King of Hungary.
Notice that “lifted to the sky with some frequency” is actually amplifying Brewer’s original “sometimes.” Already Vallée is on uneasy ground.
Several French texts of the period identify the author as Chartruiz, Bishop of Hungary during the reign of Coloman. This Chartruiz is a Francophone transliteration of Cartuicus or Hartuicus, the Latin name of the book’s author, varying among the nine extant manuscripts. His Hungarian name is Hartvic (or Harthwig), by which he is known in English.
Here’s some trouble: “Chartruiz” is a misspelling of “Chartuiz,” as the Catholic Lives of the Saints gives his name. This misspelling occurs again in François Giry’s French-language Lives of the Saints (the version I checked was an updated 1863 edition by Paul Guérin), which is where we find this passage, a modern summary of Chartuiz’s original work:
Son esprit était alors tellement transporté en Dieu, que son corps même le suivait quelquefois : un jour qu’il priait dans sa tente, il fut enlevé avec elle en l'air par les anges, jusqu'à ce que son oraison fût achevée.
OK, so we found where Brewer got his secondhand information.
But identifying Hartvic as the correct author creates more problems. Hartvic—about whom no evidence exists outside this one text, prompting speculation that he is one with Arduin of Gyor—was writing under royal commission a century after the events he described, and his biography of Stephen was intended as royal propaganda. The text, as we have it, is largely a transcription of the older Legenda maior sancti regis Stephani. Our passage, though, is original to Hartvic. So here is what Harvic said. He describes Stephen’s frequent prayers and refers to a particular night when Stephen had set up his tent. The next lines are from Caput IV, in the section labeled 24 in the older critical edition but 17 in the most recent edition, Thomas Head’s Medieval Hagiography:
Cumque diutius deprecationibus insisteret, Domini sui Regis æterni ministris ad suscipiendas preces ejus convenientibus, papilio super eum extensus a terra levatus tam diu pendere cœpit in aëre, donec Vir Dei ad se reversus a contemplatione, spiritum relaxavit ab oratione.
Hartvic then says that this tale came from an idiot (a “man of great simplicity and innocence”) who witnessed the floating tent and swore an oath never to speak of it so long as the king lived.
So, once again, the actual text does not match what the French author, the Victorian miracle-monger or the modern ancient astronaut speculator claim that it does. At the most literal level, the Latin speaks only of the tent levitating, not the king; for, the papilio (literally: butterfly) was a tent without a floor, so its rising was not due to a floating king within. Worse, Brewer seems to have mistaken (in using a French summary rather than the Latin original) the floating tent for a floating king, and the king’s frequent prayers for frequent levitation. The angels in the original were taking up prayers, not the tent. Vallée simply repeats Brewer without ever checking the source or doing even a cursory reading of Hartvic (whom he does not even know by name!) to confirm whether the secondhand summary was true.
This doesn’t even get into the problem that Hartvic admits the tale is a wonder-story promulgated from the mouth of an idiot to make the king look good after the fact. Worse, Hartvic is known to have fabricated additional, more serious facts, including the myth that Stephen received his crown from the Pope, who in turn had received a divine vision ordering him to crown the king.
By divorcing the story from its context, Vallée can try to present it as a mystery, but the entirety of the passage, the semi-fictional nature of the work as a whole, and the known propaganda purpose of the complete work undercut everything Vallée means for us to read into it.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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