Sava Tekelija

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Sava Tekelija
Сава Текелија
Sava Tekelija by Mor Than.jpg
Born (1761-08-28)28 August 1761
Arad, Habsburg Monarchy (today Romania)
Died 7 October 1842(1842-10-07) (aged 81)
Pest, Austrian Empire (today Hungary)
Nationality Imperial Austrian
Occupation Doctor of law, merchant, philanthropist

Sava Tekelija (Serbian Cyrillic: Сава Текелија; Hungarian: Száva Thököly, 1761–1842) was among the first Serbs to have defended a doctoral thesis in jurisprudence (doctor of law), and in particular in legal theory and philosophy in 1786 at the University of Pest; president of the Matica srpska; philanthropist; noble; and merchant. Tekelija founded in Budapest the Tekelijanum (Collegium Tökölyanum) in 1838 for Serb students studying in the city. Tekelija, the patron of the Matica Srpska, opened also a Matica library in the Tekelijanum. He is related to Peter Tekeli and Jovan Tekelija (Thököly).[1]


Born in Arad in the Habsburg Monarchy (today's Romania) Tekelija studied at a Serb elementary school, went to a Buda Gymnasium, and studied law and commerce in Pest. He finished his studies in 1785, taking high jurisprudence honours. He was called to the bar in 1786. From this time he practically devoted his life to social work among the poor Serbs of Budapest, and he became well known as a social reformer and philanthropist, at home and abroad. As a merchant, Tekelija made a princely fortune very early on in his career. Convened by Metropolitan Mojsije Putnik shortly before his death, Tekelija was among the many participants of the May 1790 Serbian Church Congress (Sabor) in Temeschwar (Timișoara) where political and military representatives of Serb people in the Habsburg Monarchy gathered. The clergy no longer dominated their own assembly, thanks to Putnik's efforts in making the sabor a "People's Assembly". The senior officers led by Colonel Arsenije Sečujac demanded the establishment of a separate Serb country within the Habsburg Monarchy. Sava Tekelija was in opposition to the military demands, preferring negotiations with the Emperor.

In the Serb-populated parts of the Ottoman Empire, Tekelija was trusted and honoured as an ardent supporter of Karađorđe. He contributed munificently towards the prosecution of that leader's war policy. He also did his best to advocate and promote education among the Serbs in the Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary and elsewhere as a means of reconciling Serbs and Hungarians and raising the character of his people. Tekelija was also the leader of the Illyrian political thought of his time. He submitted a memorandum to the German-Austrian Emperor Francis II in 1805 encouraging the Austrian army to help the Serbs re-establish their national medieval empire. But his greatest service to Serbs as philanthropist was the institution, named after him Tekelijanum for Serb youth seeking higher education.

Sava Popović Tekelija comes from a famous Serb family of noblemen. His great grandfather Jovan led frontier military units in 1697, which significantly contributed to the victory of Prince Eugene of Savoy in the battle against Ottomans near Senta. In 1706 he was awarded a hereditary title of a nobleman because of his military merits. In the family there were other famous people. One of the best known is Sava's uncle Peter Tekeli, a general in the army of the Russian Empress Catherine the Great.

Sava Tekelija was first educated in a Serbian and then in a Latin school in Arad. He attended the Senior Grammar School in Buda. In the meantime he had attended the classes of rhetoric. He studied law in the University of Vienna and he learnt French, Italian and Spanish. He also attended natural sciences classes, where he studied anatomy, chemistry, botany and mathematics. At the same time he acquired some education in music. He finished his studies of law at the University of Budapest in 1785 and there he defended his doctoral thesis entitled De causa et fine civitatis (On the Cause and Purpose of the Existence of the State) the following year, thus becoming the first Serb PhD of Legal Sciences in the country at the time. The thesis was written in the spirit of the French legal encyclopedistics and enlightenment, under the influence of the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Sava Tekelija supported in various ways the Serb rebels in Ottoman Empire who fought for the liberation of Serbia from Ottoman rule. In 1805 he translated the book Romans in Spain by Watson and in the preface he presented his programme for the renewal of the Serbian state.

Following the ideas of French educators he actively worked on the education of the people. He thought that a strong intellectual elite should be formed in order to re-connect the Serb people with European trends. His educational mission and charitable activities coincided to a great extent with the aims of Matica Srpska, which had been founded in Budapest in 1826 by a young doctorate student Jovan Hadžić (a senator of the Magistrate of Novi Sad, an author of the Serbian Civil Law from 1844) and a group of rich businessmen: Đorđe Stanković, Josif Milovuk, Jovan Demetrović, Gavrilo Bozitovac, Andrija Rozmirović and Petar Rajić. In 1838 Sava Tekelija was elected the President of Matica Srpska, which was one of the most significant events in the history of the Serb people. He interceded for Matica Srpska to become a scientific society. Because of that Matica Srpska today has seven scientific departments. He played a crucial role in the formation of a rich library fund which was the basis of the Library of Matica Srpska. He also formed a solid ground for the shaping of the Serbian Pantheon whose funds were later used for the foundation of the Gallery of Matica Srpska and the Museum of Vojvodina. In all of these activities his endowment Tekelianum, founded in 1838, played a significant role.

The Tekelijanum Endowment[edit]

I want to found it in Budapest, a scientific environment, for which purpose I bought a house near the church and the University. I want twelve students to come to Budapest and learn, have a place to live and one hundred forints for support, and later arrangements shall be made. I will put this under consideration in Matica Srpska, which will also get the three rooms for the supervisor: one for the library, one for the Pantheon or for meetings, and one for students. Although he officially gave the supervision of the endowment to Matica, the founder still oversaw everything himself and managed the affairs. He personally cared for the endowment building and its residents until disease and old age forced him to return to his hometown of Arad. He cared for the endowment with a lot of concern and dedication, which is confirmed by one of his contemporaries: He founded and managed this foundation with such will that he was the one to acquire everything necessary for the residents. He himself stuffed straw mattresses with straw and sewed them.

Tekelijanum was later taken care of by professional supervisors. The first one was the secretary of Matica Srpska Teodor Pavlović. That duty was later given to Jovan Jovanović Zmaj, one of the most famous Serb poets. The residents of the endowment (Tekelijanists) were: Bogdan Gavrilović, the Rector of the University of Belgrade and the President of the Serbian Royal Academy of Sciences; Radivoj Kašanin, a famous Serbian mathematician; Tihomir Ostojić, editor of the Annual Review and secretary of Matica; Marko Maletin, editor of the Annual Review and secretary of Matica; Jovan Pavlović, a prominent journalist; Veljko Petrović, writer and president of Matica; Lazo Tomanović, journalist and president of the Government of Montenegro; as well as several hundred other Serb intellectuals.

The property of Tekelijanum was nationalized in 1952. At that time the Endowment temporarily stopped working. In 1966 in the process of denationalization the Hungarian authorities returned half of the Tekelianum palace to the Buda Eparchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Tekelijanum Palace[edit]

Tekelijanum Palace

From its foundation in 1838, the seat of the Tekelijanum (Tekelianum, the endowment of Sava Tekelija) was located in an elite part of downtown Budapest (today it is at Veres Pálné utca 17-19), which was highly populated by Serbs since the end of the 17th century. The fiduciaries of Sava Tekelija's endowment made the decision to raze the old two-storey structure in 1906. On the same spot in 1907, construction was begun of a new building (with a surface area of 92,570 sq. ft.), according to the design of the architect Sandor Fellner. Construction was entrusted to the engineer Ahil Duka. Vladimir Vuković did the carpentry, Nikola Vrančić the ironwork, and the artist Nikola Stanković did the decorative painting. Numerous decorative elements of the building were overlaid with ceramics produced in the Zsolnay Factory in Pécs.

The front facade of this monumental five-storey building is symmetrically laid out in a carefully planned rhythm of architectural elements. The vertical separation is highlighted by two dominant semi-circular porticos above which there are low-relief contoured bay windows and hanging eaves. In the center of the facade on the third floor, there is a long balcony and there are two other shorter ones on the sides of the wings on the fourth floor. All the balconies are enclosed and set on massive high-relief corbels. The magnificence of the facade is enhanced by the placement of a wide variety of types of windows: architraves, semi-circular single pane, dual pane and triple pane windows, along with a wealth of two-dimensional and unusual ornamentation along the window frames, on the capitals of the pilasters, and on the fascia and cordons of the roof. Elements of Serbian medieval architecture and of the Secessionist style - quite modern at the time of the building's design - are notable features of the building of the Tekelijanum.

See also[edit]