21 years later, a restored Hungarian flag returns to its San Antonio mission home

May 25, 2021

Above, Hungarian Consul General Tamas Szeles with the statue of San Juan Capistrano at the mission in San Antonio. Below, at right, taking part in a flag presentation ceremony at Mission San Juan Capistrano on May 4 were Consul General Tamas Szeles from Los Angeles; Father Herb Jones, OFM, associate pastor of Mission San; San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, MspS; Dr. Peter Speicher, parishioners; and Vice-Consulate Gabor Markoscany from Houston. (Photos courtesy of the Archdiocese of San Antonio)

SAN ANTONIO — The statute of San Juan Capistrano within Mission San Juan Capistrano received a new flag May 4 from the General Consulate of Hungary to the United States.

Consulate General Tamas Szeles from Los Angeles and Vice-Consulate Gabor Markoscany from Houston presented a replica flag to Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, MSpS, and Father Herb Jones, OFM, associate pastor of Mission San Juan. Other guests included Superintendent Christine Jacobs of the National Park Service; Colleen Swain, director of the San Antonio World Heritage Office; San Antonio Chief Diplomacy and Protocol Officer Sherri Dowlatshahi; and Rebecca Simmons, director of the Old Spanish Missions.

In 2000, thieves broke into Mission San Juan Capistrano and stole three 18th-Century statues from the church’s altar, including the original statue of the mission’s namesake, San Juan Capistrano.

The statue was replaced with a modern replica complete with a banner. Unfortunately, the flag was again stolen a few years later.

A parishioner, Dr. Peter Speicher, noticed the loss and began looking for a replacement. When he realized the flag was a medieval Hungarian flag, Speicher contacted the Hungarian Consulate. After discussions with the San Juan pastor, the Hungarian Consulate agreed to fabricate an appropriate replica.

There is a strong connection between San Juan Capistrano and Hungary based on San Juan’s crucial role in defeating the Turkish troops during the siege of Belgrade in 1456.

The Battle of Belgrade saw Hungary and the rest of Europe halt an advancing Ottoman Empire. San Juan’s role was even more meaningful because the King of Hungary and most aristocrats fled Hungary before the advancing Turks, leaving few to defend Belgrade. San Juan gathered thousands of peasants behind his cross and flag and advanced on the experienced Turkish troops, ultimately causing them to retreat.

The Franciscan friars who founded San Juan Capistrano in 1730 sought as its patron a fellow Franciscan known as a powerful preacher and courageous defender of his flock. In the 19th-Century, the mission church deteriorated until a determined priest restored it. The archdiocese and the people of San Antonio joined together to preserve San Antonio’s history and all four of its mission churches.

Mission San Juan is an active Catholic parish that sits within the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage site that includes all five of the original San Antonio missions.