Message Board Message Board

Thank you for contacting us, please send us your message. We will respond as soon as possible.

* required field

Gerundium: An Age-Old Symbol

When the gerundium-s, or club-shaped wooden objects of unique ornamentation, symbolizing our institution and the individual faculties, are “off duty,” they “take their well-earned rest” in Rector’s Council Room of the University of Debrecen.
Perhaps, you have also wondered about what their original function might have been and why exactly they have been chosen to symbolize the university. You are obviously not the only one puzzled by this dilemma, as a lot of new arrivals in Debrecen ask the same question when they notice at the opening ceremony of the academic year that there are students carrying these special, ornately carved clubs, marching in front of the professors and other dignitaries of the university, wearing their traditional cap and gown.
The historical roots of higher education in Debrecen date back to the 16th century. Reformed College of Debrecen was founded in 1538, and this is also the date marked on the symbols of the University of Debrecen called gerundium, referring to the historical roots and origins of the institution.
A gerundium was originally used by the students of the college to put out fires with. If the night watchman on duty – called vigil – sighted or detected any emergency, he would alarm the students, too, who used their clubs to help pull down fences or thatched roofs which made it easier for the fire to spread. Younger students used smaller clubs or sticks, while senior students used larger clubs in their efforts to extinguish the fires. A large club was 170 cm-s long and weighed almost 8 kg-s. Legend has it that the name for these fire extinguishing clubs comes from the assumption that their handling was at least as difficult as the proper usage of gerund forms in Latin grammar.
Some of the currently available gerundium-s might have already been present in Debrecen’s Nagytemplom at the opening ceremony of the very first academic year in October 1914, when the legal predecessor of UD, called Debreceni Magyar Királyi Tudományegyetem [Royal Hungarian University of Debrecen] started operating with three faculties; Theology, Law, and Humanities. As regards the contemporary students coming from the different parts of the Monarchy, they may be considered the forerunners of today’s 4 thousand strong body of international students. The first student headcount then was 354, which number has grown a hundredfold in the past one hundred years, as the current number of students at UD is well above thirty thousand.
The gerundium that symbolized the entire institution was, and still is, ornamented with the coat-of-arms of the city with the lamb in it, but the owl emblem of the Faculty of Humanities has also remained the same during the past 100 years. Lady Justice, however, was laid to rest in the drawer of former Rector’s Secretary László Vincze for more than 40 years following the cessation of the possibility of reading law in 1949, only to regain its rightful position among other academic regalia in the 1990s.
One of the extant specific functions of gerundium-s continued to be that the rectors and the newly promoted doctors of the university swore their oath on them but any special event at the university even today would not be possible without these symbolic objects. True, their number has increased significantly with the development of the university, as each of the 14 different faculties now has its own uniquely ornamented gerundium.
In addition to its occurrence at special festive events, the image of a gerundium is also widely used in everyday life on publications or official stationery as the symbolic representation of our institution. The journal of the history of the university is named Gerundium, just as the electric automobile designed and developed by the students of the Faculty of Engineering, and even the video-blog (Pehelysúlyú Gerundium [Featherweight Gerundium]) created by students majoring in communication studies uses this reference. Its motif appears on items of traditional festive attire and a golden variety of it is awarded to those who have managed to help establish a fine reputation for the university through their individual achievements.
Thus, a gerundium is a symbol, an homage to the excellent higher education in Debrecen that spans a history of several centuries.
Press Office
Botond Gáborjáni Szabó, “A gerundium - egy jelkép születésének háttere” [Gerundium: Background to the Birth of a Symbol]
Debreczeni Magyar Királyi Tudományegyetem 1914-15. tanévi Almanachja [Almanach of Royal Hungarian University of Debrecen for the Academic Year of 1914-1915]