Our story started with the brave act of a German monk, urging the growth of a “new stem” on the “tree of Christianity” in Wittenberg in 1517.
Word of the Reformation reached us too, and found fertile ground in Debrecen. The legend of the lycium tree is still flowering today.
According to the legend, Reverend Bálint, a follower of the new faith, entered into a passionate argument with the Catholic priest Ambrosius on this very spot in the century of Reformation. In the heat of the debate, the Catholic priest tore a branch from a nearby lycium shrub and stuck it into the ground, saying, “Your faith will grow into something when this weed turns into a tree”. The answer of Reverend Bálint was simple: “Then it will turn into a tree.” The prophecy came true, as the little branch indeed grew into a tree during the centuries.
Ever since the emergence of the Reformation, Reformed Hungarians in Debrecen have continuously participated in the service of the poverty-stricken in the city and, before long, school education had become one of our main activities with Debrecen Reformed College founded in 1538.
A printing house still active in Debrecen today also served the cause of the Reformation - the printing house of Gál Huszár, which was founded in 1561.
During the 1567 Synod of Debrecen, the influence of the Swiss Reformation prevailed in the city.
The continued relationship with the Reformed princes of Transylvania aided in the growth of both the city and the College. Meanwhile, the life of our Church and of the city of Debrecen became closely connected.
Many times we have offered shelter for those persecuted in the storms of history, such as when people from the College of Várad were sheltered in 1660.
Through its schools around the country, the College of Debrecen became the intellectual center of Hungary. As a result of our students visiting foreign universities, the College became an important mediator of the European mentality. Students on peregrination is a tradition alive even today. The choir of the College, active still today, represents a timeless value within the Hungarian music scene. We have always considered the training of girls important during our work of schooling and education and the Institute for the Education of Girls was founded in 1838. The Great Church and the College provided the setting for many important events in Hungarian history, such as the Declaration of Independence in 1849.
Our churches burned down many times, and were always rebuilt. After the Great Fire in Debrecen in 1802, the building of the Great Church took place from 1805-1821. The resulting structure is even more striking than the previous.
We have proven the strength of our faith many times, like during the church district convocation in 1860. The state-run University of Debrecen, formed in 1912 from the departments of the College, also bears the spiritual heritage of the Reformation.
In recent decades, Debrecen has witnessed many important religious events such as the visit of Pope Paul John II in 1991 and the Assembly of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in 1997. On 2009’s Reformed Unity Day the representatives of the divided Hungarian Reformation held a unifying synod at the Great Church in Debrecen.
Today, a total of 20 churches serve the Reformed believers in Debrecen. It truly is a City of Reformation.
Written by Debrecen Reformed Theological University