Guest+appearance Virtual preview of the photo exhibition of Pannonhalma Archabbey – 2020

The temporary photo exhibition of Pannonhalma Archabbey in the year of Hospitality could not be opened at the end of March, 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We offer this virtual preview of the show until the exhibition can be opened.

Detain a man against his will, and you urge him to depart. – Publilius Syrus

Someone welcoming guests is most probably an open, easy going, even tolerant individual willing to learn, since a host and guest must establish a mutually beneficial environment together, depending on each other, in which the act of welcoming guests becomes more than the sum of its parts. Churches invite us to be their guests in many ways, and we also invite churches, religion, and spirituality to be guests in certain aspects of our lives. Today, we are hosts; tomorrow, we will be guests. This collection of documentary photos addresses the ups and downs of this mutual experience in order to identify mutual aims and recognize individual motivations. The abbey invited contemporary photographers to be their guests, to demonstrate through the lens of their visits what being a guest may mean.

Boglárka Zellei guides us into ritual spaces built for representative purposes. Her strictly composed photos allow us to witness meaningful moments that we can study in detail and compare to similar experiences of our own. Péter Sz. Németh wanders public spaces, seeking religious symbols. He does not polish the scene but captures it with all its messiness. Finding order is not his intention and he is not striving for conventional, aesthetic arrangements in his images either; he wants to uncover, to highlight. Using exaggerated colours and kitschy effects Éva Szombat removes the religious motifs from their everyday positions in the apartments she discovered them in. Enlarging them allows us to investigate whether they actually have a meaning at all or have become mere distorted substitutes of themselves. Ákos Stiller employs classical tools of photojournalism to demonstrate the value the Bible has in gypsy communities in Eastern Hungary, and the way faith offers aid in the most unexpected places. He depicts the glittery, homemade religious accessories and the deepest communality in the same critical, often humorous, yet always friendly manner.

The four photographers investigate the cross sections of church and everyday life, where the religious and profane aspects of our lives meet. Do they only find the indifference and empty routines that result from our 21-century lifestyle? Or will there be an interaction, be it tension or catharsis?

István Virágvölgyi – Curator

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Boglárka Éva Zellei: Furnishing the Sacred

This series approaches the visual language of contemporary Christian communities through the environments used for immersion baptism. Although this ceremony is basically a two-thousand-year old form of christening, every place has a different religious tone. The intimacy of the event excitingly meets with the profane needs and possibilities, the tradition with the contemporary taste, and unique approaches. Everyday objects are arranged so that they provide new connections and gain new meanings. Their intention is to feel at home while trying to bring the transcendent world to these places. This project is focusing on the human aspect and it shows the side of religion which is continuously formed and built by humans. These images are constructed in a similar way to emphasize the viewer’s own cultural habits and reflections. As the environment changes around the figures, we can observe how it shapes our visual concepts of religion and the sacred.

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Péter Sz. Németh: Oh, Lord!

People often say “Oh, Lord!”, “Jesus!” or “Have a blessed day!” These expressions, despite having religious origins, hardly have a direct connection to their initial meanings anymore; they have turned into common phrases.

Our belongings go through the same process, as we are surrounded by countless religious symbols, the origins of which are long forgotten. Either they depict lesser-known motifs, for example characteristics for the identification of saints, or on the contrary, they have become everyday items and thus lost their original meaning, like the motifs of sheep or angels. While Christian symbols surround us in every moment, we fail to notice them; we don’t even think about the reason they are there or their actual meaning.

The environment of these objects enhances this effect. Residue from different times pile up, resulting in curious conjunctions, which make the understanding more complex. Why is a lonely, ten-meter tall, uncompleted statue of Jesus standing next to a grocery store? Who “left” the Jesus sculpture next to the sidewall of a well in the Fiume Street cemetery? And who placed a candle in front of it?

I have taken most of my photos in public spaces, as I am interested in situations that anyone at anytime can experience. My intention was not to highlight, frame, or isolate the subjects of these pictures, but rather to present them as they were; in their true environment, which often turns them absurd, funny, even grotesque.

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Éva Szombat: If Even Jesus Smiles on the Cross


Theoretically, everyone in my family is Christian, although the majority of our ancestors were Jews. They deny that and only talk about it in secret, especially my father’s family. He was a very devoted Christian pupil of the Pannonhalma High School. I was raised Christian, too; but I visit Tel Aviv as well.


It is important for me to have added meaning to my life, which I can believe in and act on, but not by standing straight and repressed, and by existing like that. +++ I feel like an outsider, or rather like standing in between. I live like others at 29, I drink and party with my friends, but at the same time the attachment to God constitutes a crucial part of my life. To be in touch with ourselves and with God is more important; everything else is secondary.


Lilla: I was confirmed, I was attending Bible classes, and at the same time my favourite thing to do was to listen to Depeche Mode alone in the cemetery.
  • Lilla: They accepted us the way we were.
  • Janó: We agreed to that bullshit of not having a sex life until we got married.
  • Lilla: He asked me to marry him, I said yes, and then came the pressure to go by that. So I called the whole thing off, and hooked up with his best friend.
  • Janó: I tried to be self-reflective, to explain why this had happened. I’ve realized how ignorant I was toward her needs.
  • Lilla: In a few months, I had yet another full enlightenment, and calmed down. Thank God, Janó held on and forgave me.
  • Lilla: Guilt and shame. We felt burnt out, and started to shift away from the community. We saw it falling apart. We saw how hierarchical and careerist it was. The women, the leaders’ wives were the worst. In the hierarchy, a woman is only allowed to act solely in her husband’s shadow.
  • Janó: Everything was fine behind this shell, but everything sucked outside it. It had to crack, still we carried it inside us, but it cracked there as well. While this was happening we discovered Lőrinc Borsos. Art was our escape route.
Janó: As far as community values are concerned, the head of men is Christ, and the head of the woman is the husband, so Christ’s blessing comes to the woman through the husband. +++ Lilla: But these women were victims of the system, too.


For me, the icon is a synonym for home. My Orthodox grandmother’s flat is full of them, and she even presents me with one for each holiday. They comprise the warmness, the best home cooking, and the laughs that follow family quarrels. I’m not religious, but still, I fill my walls with them, probably because of this feeling of home.


I’ve placed this drawing in front of the mirror to remind myself during morning preparations of this idea, to be aware of what I am representing.

During a spiritual retreat last year, I had a prayer experience about the Shroud of Turin being exposed to the light of resurrection. That image of Jesus is similar to the negative in photography. The light of resurrection radiated through it. I’ve painted a picture based on the shroud. As a result, when I stand in front of children and teach them about Jesus and God, I feel I have to radiate Him.

A pupil gave me a colouring. What else could reinforce you when facing difficulties, if not a smiling Christ on the cross? If even Jesus smiles on the cross, what am I whining about?
I’ve received a calendar with handsome priests from my roommate as a present. It’s a surreal idea, making a calendar with handsome priests who live in celibacy.

There are two things that have been with me since I was a child: art and faith. I approach other people with faith.


Annamari: As a child, I used to find going to church a bit of a burden. Being religious at my age was not cool but I was able to fit it into my image. I can give God the looks, the environment, or style I want; the bottom line is that I believe in something divine that is supporting me. I need to believe in something, for sure; I couldn’t go on if there was just air out there. There has to be someone up there, whom I can talk to; I don’t want to be alone.
Dennis: I found religion for the first time when we arrived in the US, and a Christian family was helping us. They baptized me immediately, just to make sure; who knows what’s up with this kid. Then I attended a Jewish secondary school. +++ I did a lot of research; I looked into every religion there is because it’s fascinating; the development of humanity, the collective consciousness, the manipulation of people. But basically I don’t believe in any supernatural god. In the meantime, I’ve realized that I’m an atheist. +++ I’ve been regularly meditating since I was 13 or 14, and these questions, as to whether I believe in something, are beyond me. Essentially, I believe in everything and nothing. Meditation gives you an insight into life, and these questions become secondary.


I’m constantly searching. I believe in a higher power, or God, I’ve attended Bible classes because I was interested, but I’m not baptized and I don’t think I ever will be. I’ve tried several communities, but none of those felt like my path. My material possessions make me feel comfortable, or I just like them for one reason or another.

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Ákos Stiller: Roma Bible

A third of Hungary’s population is living below the poverty threshold, every fourth citizen of this third in deep poverty. All of this in a vicious circle from which there is virtually no way out. Hundreds of factories and co-ops having been shut down, work opportunities providing employment for the massive unskilled population have ceased, and after decades of unemployment, these people lack motivation to study further. Aids push masses into passivity, while their chances are at best improved by a breathing straw, if at all, so no wonder the majority fail in this endeavour, or simply give up trying.

I have visited a number of Roma rows and villages in deep poverty, where the question of the society’s responsibility would often emerge during conversations with residents. Why the state doesn’t provide work, why the aid is not enough. And soon the responsibility of the individual would come up. Why he or she hasn’t done everything possible, why he or she hasn’t tried a thousandth time.

However, I met families who were living on the Roma rows in similarly shoddy houses, but their court was clean, their child would be doing homework late at night, and they were economizing with the little they earned. They did have hope, and as it turned out, most of the time this hope had its origins in their faith. Dozens of small churches and even historical ones undertake pastorship for the Roma, featuring a separate mission for the Roma, converting the poor, for whom often the only ray of hope is faith, for which it is worthwhile to make the hundredth effort at seeking employment, and which helps them be confident that tomorrow everything will turn better.

It was surprising to experience that there is barely a town or village in Eastern Hungary where there would not be a Christian congregation, and barely a weekend when there would not be an immersion taking place somewhere. The latest studies in Hungary estimate the number of Roma attending various Neo-Protestant congregations or missionary groups at around twenty thousand.* They are among the largest groups in today’s Hungary whose life has barely been documented.

More than eighty percent of the Roma who found faith mostly following the regime change attend charismatic congregations. The Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement is one of the most dynamically evolving Christian movements in developing countries. While in the 70s only ten percent of the world’s Christians were members of charismatic congregations, by today this has grown to 25 percent. Typically popular in slums and poor neighbourhoods, the success of the movement lies, among other things, in the fact that they believe that the Holy Spirit can take effect not only with the mediation of educated priests, but through anyone who accommodates it – be they illiterate, poor or ex-convicts. In Hungary it is also typical that converts later become pastors who evangelize in neighbouring towns and villages, create groups based in private homes, and having outgrown those, establish community houses. Second and third generation believers who have been brought up and socialized in these communities together with their families and relatives are now becoming adults. This stable core ensures that by today most pastors and missionaries come from Roma communities.

Conversion entails a turn in lifestyle and mentality as well, bringing them closer to the lifestyle, morals and norms of the majority society. According to a number of studies, a considerable part of those involved in the movement eventually become better citizens, even if this has not been among their goals upon conversion. When giving their testimony, several converts have reported that they stopped going to the pub, devote more time to their families, or gave up their addictions such as drugs or smoking. The protagonist of their new experience is God, standing above all, accepting them without any reservations, and simultaneously being above those who used to discriminate them.

“Acceptance, love and forgiveness.” According to father Lourdu of the Catholic Society of the Divine Word, this awaits those arriving at his church in Köröm. Most people hope for forgiveness, as often even the pastors themselves don’t have an immaculate record: in Uszka, an ex-pimp is now a missionary; in Békés, the preacher is an ex-skinhead with a tattoo of the name of “Szálasi”, leader of the Hungarian post-war fascist party. Both were empowered by faith to reconstruct themselves, their families and their environment – and this dark past gives a lot of inspiration to congregation members, most of whom are not average middle-class citizens.

With the evangelization of the Roma, Christianity has returned to its very roots: addressing the most impoverished, who live on the margins of society, converting them from door to door. Religion is for all, they proclaim, and bring masses back into society this way.

*Gellért Gyetvai – Zoltán Rajki: Cigánymissziós mozgalmak hatása Magyarországon [The Effects of Roma Missions in Hungary], Roma Methodology and Study Center, Békés, 2014

Róbert Lakatos – Kótaj

Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. (Psalms 37:4–5)

Katalin Szűcsné Keimer – Kompolt

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11,28)

Róbert Németh – Kótaj

Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God. (Psalm 50,23)

Gyuláné Bitó – Kompolt

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4,7)

István Balogh – Kótaj

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. (Psalm 23,1–2)

Lajos Pege – Kápolna

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3,16)

Roland Kőrösi – Szeged

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (John 20,29)

Gábor Gábor – Mórahalom

In him was life; and the life was the light of men. (John 1,4)

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Péter Sz. Németh (1985, Szombathely) became involved with photography in 2006, and completed photojournalist training at the György Bálint Journalist Academy in 2013. He has been a photo editor and photographer at Velvet.hu from 2014, and at Index.hu since 2017. He was a recipient of the Pécsi József Photography Grant in 2016 and in 2017.

Ákos Stiller (1982, Budapest) worked as a staff photojournalist for the weekly HVG since 2007. Currently he takes assignments from The New York Times, National Geographic, CNN, Spiegel, Stern, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and Washington Post among others. Over the years he has won 20 awards in the Hungarian Pictures of the Year contest, and was selected for the prestigious Joop Swart Masterclass in 2014, which is organised by World Press Photo. In 2015, with his picture story on Hungarian farmlands, Ákos was awarded first place in the feature picture story category in the Pictures of the Year International (POYi) contest.

Éva Szombat (1987, Kaposvár) is a photographer working and living in Budapest. Her unique blend of glamour and sociological examination has appeared in local and international magazines and on websites including Vice, Huffington Post, GUP Magazine and Vogue Spain. She received her master’s degree in Photography from MOME (2012), and she received the Pécsi József Photography Scholarship between 2013 and 2016 in which she examined the phenomenon of happiness and its effect on people. She published two books on the subject, the limited edition Happiness, and Practitioners. She has won artistic scholarships in Paris and New York. Her works were exhibited in New York, Jerusalem, Milan, Vienna, Berlin and Bogota among other places. She is currently working on several new series, teaching photography at MOME, and she is very happy in her life.

István Virágvölgyi (1982, Budapest) studied freehand drawing, desktop publishing and photography and earned a master’s degree in library and information studies at Eötvös Loránd University (Budapest, Hungary). He worked at the leading Hungarian news portal Origo first as a photo editor and then as head of photography between 2007 and 2011, after which he joined MTI Hungarian News Agency as the head of the photo desk. Since 2014 he has been working at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center (Budapest, Hungary); he is the secretary of the Capa Grand Prize Hungary.

Boglárka Éva Zellei (1993, Budapest) photographer and visual artist, is exploring the transformation of spirituality and religion today. She began her studies with a BA from Kaposvár University, then attended courses at the Hochschule für Künste Bremen, and later graduated with an MA form Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, Budapest, in 2017. Besides Budapest, her works have been exhibited in London, Vienna, Monopoli, Breda and Ljubljana. Several magazines, including HANT – Magazin für Fotografie, IMA Magazine (Japan), C41 Magazine, Spiegel Online and The Guardian, have published her works. In 2018 she was one of those awarded the József Pécsi Photography Scholarship, as well as a finalist of the New East Photo Prize and nominee of the Prix Pictet prize. She is a member of the Studio of Young Artists’ Association and the Studio of Young Photographers.

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Temporary photo exhibition of Pannonhalma Archabbey

originally planned opening period: March 21 – June 28, 2020

The exhibition was organized by the Cultural Board of Pannonhalma Archabbey on the occasion of the year of Hospitality: Konrád Dejcsics OSB, Mónika Sarkadi

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  • Photographers: Péter Sz. Németh, Ákos Stiller, Éva Szombat, Boglárka Éva Zellei
  • Curator: István Virágvölgyi
  • Graphic design: Zoltán Szmolka
  • Installation: Imre Kmetz, Rioli Decor
  • English translation: Miklós Zsámboki
  • Proof reading: Gabi Somorjai, John Kowalchuk
  • Photo printing: Pigmenta Art Print Lab
  • Framing: Vár-Art Gallery Picture Framing Workshop

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  • The Hungarian and English bilingual 120-page catalogue of the exhibition was published in 300 copies.
  • Photographers: Péter Sz. Németh, Ákos Stiller, Éva Szombat, Boglárka Éva Zellei
  • Editor: István Virágvölgyi
  • Catalogue design, DTP: Zoltán Szmolka
  • The catalog was published by the Pannonhalma Archabbey Public Benefit Foundation. The volume was edited at the Pannonhalma Archabbey Press.
  • Responsible publisher: Cirill T. Hortobágyi OSB
  • Printed by: Palatia Printing and Publishing Ltd. +++ Director: József Radek
Created By
Istvan Viragvolgyi


© 2020 The copyright holders of the photos, the authors of the texts, the Archabbey of Pannonhalma