St Stephen’s Basilica of Budapest is one of the most beautiful and significant churches and touristic attractions of Hungary. This is partly due to its historical heritage, of being dedicated to the holy king St Stephen who was also the founder of the Hungarian state, and partly to the architectural and artistic value of the building itself.
A campaign to raise funds for the construction of the church commenced in the 1810-es, however, construction works did not start until 14th August 1851. Before that was a little parishchurch on the place, and many citizen of Pest escaped here during the big flood of river Danube in 1838. Actually at the beginning Saint Stephen Basilica was intented to be a votive church, built from the donations of the grateful survivers of the flood.
The plan of the Basilica is based on the drawings of József Hild, a leading citizen and architect of Pest, who also designed the cathedrals in Esztergom and Eger. József Hild supervised the works until his death as of 6th March 6th 1867. The Council of the City of Pest appointed Miklós Ybl, an acknowledged master at the time and designer of numerous public buildings in the capital city including the Opera House, to continue to supervise the design and construction of this prominent building. After his death, the interior of the building and the fine artistic and decorative works were completed by 1905 under the supervision of József Kauser.
22nd January 1868 was an important and tragic date in the history of the Basilica. It was on this day that the cupola and the cupola drum constructed according to the designs of Hild collapsed due to defects in materials and craftmanship. The pillars holding the arches of the cupola were constructed with donated stones of assorted quality and solidity. The cupola drum was built on the inner rim of the arches underpinning it, resulting in a precariously balanced structure which distributed the load unevenly on the pillars. The imbalance of the structure in turn gave rise to the collapse, after which works paused for more than a year, when the removal of the debris and the demolition of the poorly constructed parts commenced and continued until 1871. Miklós Ybl prepared new designs for continuing the construction works or revised the previous ones in terms of the structure and the appearance alike. From 1875, the Hellenistic forms and Classicist style were replaced by Neo-Renaissance elements applied by Ybl, and works continued, even after his death of 1891, according to his sketches and ideas until the long-last dedication of the church in 1905. The placement of the keystone in the presence of Franz Joseph I, emperor of Austria and king of Hungary has happened on 9th December 1906. Saint Stephen Basilica of Budapest was appointed to be a ‘basilica minor’ by Pope Pius XI in 1931. 1991. Pope John Paul II visited the church at the feast of king St Stephan in 1993.
The classicist style facade of the Basilica is anchored by two large towers. The two towers have six bells altogether: five on the left side tower and one in the right side tower. This latter one, the Saint Stephen-bell is the biggest bell in Hungary with its 9250 kilograms and its diameter of 252 centimeters. Usually it’s used twice a year, at 17 hours on the 20th of August, and at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Above the main entrance, which depicts the twelve apostles, one can see the bust of Saint Stephen made from Carrara marmor. In the tympanon above the crowned Virgin Mary can be seen with Saint Stephen on her righthand.
The inner layout and the completion of the building in 1905 is the work of József Krausz. Famous Hungarian painters, and sculptors, like Károly Lotz, Alajos Stróbl, Gyula Benczúr decorated the inner side, using 50 different types of marble , 51 kind of precious and semiprecious stones and around 300 kg of gold and golddust. The ceiling of the dome and most of the walls are decorated by mosaics, depicting the Creator God, the Apostles, the Evangelists and Hungarian saints. On the main altar stands the statue of King Saint Stephen made of white Carrara marmor.
The Chapel of the Holy Right is behind the sanctuary, where the right hand of the first Hungarian king, St. Stephen is held in a delicatly ornated reliquary. During World War II, the Holy Right and the coronation jewels were taken and hidden in a cave in Salzburg. Later they were found by the US army, whichdelivered the Right Hand to the archbishop of Salzburg for safekeeping. It was returned to Hungary, right on time for the procession of August 20, 1945 by three members of the American Military Mission. The Holy Right Hand is taken for a process in the city on 20th August, the most important holiday of Hungary.
The Basilica’s organ was prepared by the Angster company, and is the second largest in Hungary, with its more, than 10000 pipes – the smallest one is 0,5 cm, the longest one is 13 m.