Mezőkövesd is the home of the Matyó, a Hungarian ethnic group renowned for its exquisite embroidery.

Matyó Heritage

Mezőkövesd was granted town rights by King Mátyás Hunyadi in 1464. Legend has it that in gratitude, the residents took on his nickname, Matyó. Over time, they became a separate ethnic group in Hungary, thanks to their well-preserved traditions and closed community. The Matyó people are recognizable by their elaborately embroidered folk costumes, which suggests considerable wealth. However, Matyóföld [Matyóland] has always been among the poorest regions of Hungary. Despite this, the Matyó people live by saying, “Let the stomach growl but the costume shine”, reflecting their attitude towards life.

The town was established as a pen-garden type settlement, which is a distinct Hungarian version of nucleated settlements. This layout separates functions, with houses clustered in the inner part of the settlement, while the associated pen-gardens are situated on the outskirts. Pen-gardens were designated areas for keeping livestock, forage, and farm equipment, as well as serving as a sleeping place for the men of the village. However, due to a lack of job opportunities by the beginning of the 20th century, hundreds of people in Mezőkövesd became seasonal agricultural workers known as ‘summás’, in other parts of the country. The prolonged absence of these people throughout the year has also impacted their way of life.

Visitors to Mezőkövesd have the opportunity to explore the cultural heritage and lifestyle of the Matyó people in several museums. Additionally, they can indulge in the therapeutic benefits of the Zsóry Thermal Spa, which is located nearby and offers a range of indoor and outdoor pools, as well as various medical treatments and therapies. The water, with its high sulphur content and temperature of 60°C, is among the most therapeutic in Hungary. It was classified as medicinal water back in 1968 and is especially beneficial for treating joint conditions such as rheumatism and arthritis, as well as aiding in post-injury rehabilitation.

Matyó Heritage

The folk art tradition of the Matyó people living in and around the town of Mezőkövesd has a history of over 200 years. The earliest surviving examples of Matyó embroidery were border decorations on bedsheets that covered the so-called “high made-up beds”. These bedsheets were embroidered with motifs of shoes and birds using only red and blue yarn. The most intricate examples of Matyó folk costumes and household fabrics appeared in the early 20th century, and the Matyó rose has become an iconic floral motif. Each color used in the embroidery has a specific meaning: yellow represents summer, red represents joy, blue represents sorrow, green represents mourning, and black represents earth. The embroiderers relied heavily on the art and skill of the so-called ‘writing women’ who created hand-drawn patterns for them to embroider. One of the most famous of these writing women was Bori Kis Jankó (1876-1954), also known as the “woman of 100 roses”. Besides embroidery, these same motifs have been used in interior design, architecture, and contemporary fashion design.

The members of the Matyó Népművészeti Egyesület [Matyó Folk Art Association] play a crucial role in keeping alive the local embroidery traditions. Matyó folk art has also been recognized as a Hungarikum – a formal collection of highly valued Hungarian products and symbols – and has been listed as part of the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

There are various tales about the origins of the Matyó embroidery that circulate among women in the town. According to one such story, the sweetheart of a Matyó girl was kidnapped by the devil. In exchange for her lover, the devil demanded that the girl bring him the most beautiful flowers of the meadow in her apron, However, since it was winter, the girl searched in vain but found no flowers for the devil. She spent the next few days in despair, thinking about the colorful flowers and her kidnapped sweetheart, until she finally figured out how to fulfill the devil’s wish. She ran around the village and asked the women for yarns of different colors. Then, embroidering day and night, she filled her apron with beautiful flowers, such as roses, tulips and peonies. She took the apron to the devil, who was pleased with the ransom and kept his promise. This is how the Matyó embroidery, with its rich color scheme and motifs, came into existence, at least according to the legend.

The Matyó Múzeum [Matyó Museum] offers great insights into the traditional folk art and lifestyle of the Matyó people. The museum is housed in the former Korona Szálló [Crown Hotel], a historic building in the town. The exhibits include a wide variety of Matyó folk art, such as embroidery, woven textiles, furniture, and pottery. Visitors can see examples of embroidery from different periods, which reflect the evolving styles and techniques of the Matyó people over time. One of the highlights of the museum is the collection of folk costumes, which are elaborately decorated with colorful embroidery and lace. The exhibit highlights how the variations in the costumes reflect the wearer’s age and marital status. For example, unmarried girls wear bright and ornate costumes, while married women wear more subdued colors. In the gift shop of the museum, visitors can purchase authentic Matyó embroidery items that suit their budget. These embroidered products range from small souvenirs such as bookmarks, ornaments and trinket boxes to larger items like blouses, pillowcases and tablecloths. These items are all created using traditional embroidery patterns the techniques as those used by the Matyó embroiderers for centuries.

The Városi Galéria [Town Gallery] houses a comprehensive collection of paintings by István Takács (1901-1985), the most authentic painter of the Matyó. Born into a traditional Matyó peasant family in Mezőkövesd, his love for his homeland is evident in his folk paintings, which depict the Matyó way of life. He even fused his two passions – religion and Matyó culture – in some of his work, such as the painting ‘Matyó Madonna’, which features the Virgin wearing a Matyó folk costume, and the fresco of the ‘Matyó Celebration Mass Procession’ in the Szent László-templom [Church of Szent László] in the town. Through his artistic endeavors, he played a significant role in preserving the traditions of the Matyó people.

The Hadas area of the town can be considered an open-air museum due to its well-maintained 19th-century thatch-roofed farmhouses. The buildings are inhabited by various artisans including gingerbread maker, hand weaver, potter and furniture painter. Notably, Bori Kis Jankó, the most famous ‘writing women ‘of the town, lived in one of these farmhouses, which has been preserved with its original furnishings. Roaming around the cobbled streets, visitors can get a glimpse into the history of the area while munching on a ‘too beautiful to eat’ gingerbread heart.

The Hajdu Ráfis János Mezőgazdasági Gépmúzeum [János Hajdu Ráfis Agricultural Machinery Museum] can also provide some context for understanding the Matyó way of life through its extensive collection of agricultural machines. The collection ranges from animal-powered machines of the mid-19th century, through steam-powered vehicles of the turn of the 19th-20th century, to modern tractors of the 20th century.


%d bloggers like this: