The township of Sarospatak has occupied a very significant historical and cultural role since the establishment of Hungary. The history of its castle is connected with the lives and activities of many famous and noble people of this nation. For example, Laszlo IV, known as the Cumanian., and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary were both born here.
From the beginning of the sixteenth century, the princes of Transylvania and nobility of Upper-Hungary owned the township. Sarospatak became one of the centres of the often rekindled Hungarian national wars of independence. This is why Sandor Petőfi, the national poet, wrote in his diary, "This town was the lion's den of the Hungarian revolutions. Here the lions of freedom dwelt."
The Reformation in Hungary started to gain ground almost simultaneously with Martin Luther's appearance at the beginning of the 1500's. The Hungarian people, who had defended Christian Europe throughout centuries against the invading pagans, found in Calvinism a saving and renewing force for the individual, as well as for the nation as a whole. To the Hungarians,. Calvinism meant a possible progress in all directions of life, so that in the end they considered it the Magyar religion.
The Reformation brought a particular school system here, making it possible to establish nationwide colleges which would train ministers for the Hungarian Reformed Church. The Sárospatak College was one of these types of colleges.
Since 1531, the college was financially sponsored by Protestant nobles, who maintained all the buildings, teachers, libraries, and the printing houses of the College. They also established the rules and regulations of the College and made it possible for needy but talented students to study here free of charge. These nobles also made it possible for all eminent students of the college to visit universities of other countries. The world famous pedagogical historian, Amos John Comenius, established his modern college during his activities here in Sárospatak.
During the Hungarian Counter-Reformation at the end of the 17th century, all Protestants in the Carpathian Basin who remained loyal to their faith were harassed and even killed or sentenced to galley slavery with the help of a foreign army. Thus, the Sárospatak College went into exile for a quarter of a century. The College which had been almost totally plundered, found shelter and security in Transylvania, where the Prince of Transylvania made it possible for the college to continue its functions there. At the beginning of the 18th century, the college was once again able to function freely in Sárospatak.
On the 300th anniversary of the College, the particular spiritual characteristics of the college were expressed in the words of this sentence: I have three burning torches: faith, country and humanity.
The College has an educational structure consisting of a low, middle and an upper level built upon each other, but varying in form from time to time. For example, at one time, a student could complete theological training and at the same time receive a degree in law, liberal arts, and primary education. The College produced many famous writers, poets, and scholars for the benefit of the nation. Some mention Sarospatak, situated on the banks of the Bodrog River, as the Athens of Bodrog River. Since it is possible to get a diploma in the English language here, others called Sarospatak the Hungarian Cambridge.
In 1952, the Communist dictatorship closed the gates of the Theological Academy. The Synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church protested, thus the churchs function was also disallowed by the State. After the revolution and war of 1956, the Synod regained its independence. The Colleges Great Library, Museum, Archives and the Database of Scholarly Collections remained under control of the church. However, among the ancient walls of the college, a state run grammar school was operated. In 1989, the Reformed College of Sarospatak, with both its Theological Academy and Grammar School began functioning again as a part of the Hungarian Reformed Church. The demands of the College's manifold functions resulted in the establishment of the Great Library at at the beginning of the college's operations. Its materials have been documented since the end of the 16th century.
Since 1621, contemporary writers comment on the fate of the "most famous library of Hungary and Transylvania". The library consisted mainly of gifts from the Prince of Transylvania and the Rákóczi family library donated in 1652. A large part of this library was scattered and destroyed during the Counter-Reformation in Hungary. When the College began functioning again, the Library restarted as well. This time by the sponsorship of the Protestant lower nobilities, the library's stock was enlarged through donations of family libraries and collections of individual scholars. It became a tradition for students visiting foreign universities to bring back books to their alma mater.
Since the stock of the existing Library has increased during the centuries, it has demanded new rooms and buildings to accommodate its growth. The Library was scattered until 1834, when it was gathered into the present building with it's original chamber in classicist style. The newest building, the Repositorium, solves the problem of storage. Between the two World Wars, the book stock was about 100,000 volumes. During the 70's it reached a half million volumes. Among these volumes, there are some Codex remains, some original printings and nearly a hundred unique and rare works of theological, historical, philosophical, legal and pedagogical works. The college's institutes have cared fora significant amount of documents for almost 470 years of history. Since 1735, the number of documents have increased greatly through growing documents of the Synod, other ecclesiastical and lay institutes, and by the collections of facilities and societies which now make up the District and Archival Collection, of which the oldest document originates from 1294. Since the 1700's, various educational departments continually established collections of physics, archeology, numismatics and fine art items which the Museum, as a separate institution, collects. Continuing exhibitions of educational and ecclesiastical arts, as well as periodical and occasional exhibitions of various kinds are held here. Before World War II, the youth of the College, took part collectively in intensive research of rural sociology. Their experiences were useful in their practical studies of theological training, as well as in gaining some sociological knowledge. The written results of these field works, combined with collections of traditional art work, sociological pictures, historical accounts of places and work of some eminent scholars, resulted in the establishment of the Database. This Database is just one of the special collections of the Scholarry Collections of the Reformed College, which are used by hundreds of researchers and students yearly.