University biographical mosaics – György Pray

Two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1773, Pope Clement XIII dissolved the Jesuit order, accelerating the process of the university's transfer to the state. Between 1635 and 1773, many distinguished Jesuits of great knowledge taught at our university, leaving a lasting mark on the history of the institution. In September our feature is on the father of Hungarian critical historiography, the former director of our library, György Pray. 

György Pray was born on 11 January 1723 in Érsekújvár. He began his studies at the Jesuit College in Pozsony in 1734 and applied for admission to the Jesuit Order in 1740. After completing his studies, he began teaching in Nagyszombat, where he also wrote his first literary work. In 1758 he began his work on the origins of the Huns and the Hungarians, and in 1761 he asked to be released from his teaching duties because he wanted to write history. The magistrates of the Order granted his request, and from then on his profession was "elucubrator historiae Hungariae", i.e. researcher of Hungarian history. His first historical work on the origins of the Huns, Hungarians and Avars was published in 1761, and he continued to publish his yearbooks on the first period of Hungarian history until 1768. From 1767, the Empress allowed him to carry out research in the archives of the Hungarian Chamber and to make copies of the documents there. In 1770, he published our first Hungarian-language memoir, the Halotti Beszéd (Sermon on Death), in 1773, from a codex found in the Bratislava Chapter Library. In 1777, after the dissolution of the Jesuit order, Maria Theresia entrusted György Pray with the duties of director of the University Library. His presidency was an extremely eventful and important period in the life of the library. The Empress wanted to develop the former library of the Jesuit College in Nagyszombat into the country's scientific centre. The library was moved first to Buda and then to Pest, and the entire library material of the abolished monastic orders was given to the library to increase its holdings. Pray resigned from the library in 1790, when he was appointed canon of Nagyvárad by the emperor. He spent his last years in Nagyvárad and died on 8 September 1801. In 1784, he gave his extremely valuable collection of books and documents to the University Library in return for an annual fee, and in his will he also made a 300 forint endowment for poor university students.

Source/author of illustration:
ELTE University Library and Archives