The official name of the church is Saint Stephen Basilica. It’s the largest roman catholic church in Budapest. The area on which the church was built covers altogether 4147 sq.m, it is 96 m high (as high as the Parliament) and it can hold 8500 persons. The majority of the Hungarians are roman catholic; almost 70 % of us are roman catholic, about 28 % protestants, 1 % is Jewish, less than 1 % is Greek-Orthodox. First of all this ‘Basilica’ is not a basilica – the church has no basilica ground-plan, so it’s not a basilica. It’s not as old as it looks – it was built between 1851-1905 by three different Hungarian architects (Hild, Ybl, Kauser) in three different styles (classical, neo-renaissance, Neobaroque). In 1838, when the great flood destroyed the city, there was an altitude on the site of the Basilica where a small church dedicated to St. Leopold stood. The work on the building started in 1851, when Pest was still a small town. The designer, József Hild, died soon afterwards, then Miklós Ybl, the architect who later designed the Opera House, directed the construction. Ybl had a fence built around the half-ready church and set watchmen to guard it. Eight days later, in January 1868, the dome fell in. Then Ybl made new plans and work started again, almost from the beginnings. But he did not live to see the church finished, dying in 1891. The Basilica was finished by József Kauser in 1906. Franz Joseph gave a speech at the opening ceremony and, it was rumored, cast suspicious glances at the dome, which is 22 meters in diameter. In the WW2 it was damaged by bombs, one in 1944 at the Christmas high mass when the choir was singing the “Gloria” hit the entablature above Benczur’s picture and shook the church tremendously.
The main facade is not on the busy Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út; it is on the opposite side. The Basilica is a rare example in city planning in the sense that during the time it was built the structure of the city around it changed. The walls outside the chancel are richly decorated with an elegant Ionic colonnade and with statues of the 12 apostles. Above the main gate is a bust of St. Stephen made of Carrara marble, above the bust is a mosaic picture designed by Bertalan Székely and Mór Than.
The group of statues in the tympana represent Virgin Mary as Patron of Hungary among Hungarian saints, the work of Leó Fessler. Under the tympana a quotation from the Bible (Ego sum via, veritas et vita – meaning in English: I am the road, the truth and the life) can be read. The main gate opens from the vestibule, it is covered with bronze relieves representing the 12 apostles, which is work of Ödön Szamolovszky. Under the church there is a large cellar, it was here that many of the important documents of the city and some valuable art treasures survived the last war.
The ground plan of the neo-Renaissance basilica shows a Greek cross. The general opinion is that the Basilica has insufficient light.
In the basilica everything is covered with marble – the floor, the walls, the ceiling. They used 50 different kinds of marble for the decorations of this church, the most expensive one comes from Carrara, all the statues are made of this white marble. All the other marble types come from different parts of Hungary. The organ is the largest in Budapest; it has 4451 (5231) pipes, it is the third in large in Hungary, made in the Angster workshop in Pécs. The cupola mosaic represents God with Christ, angels and prophets made as well in Italy, Venice. At this time this kind of decoration was new in Hungary and no experts were found, so the Agonio Salviati workshop was commissioned to make them, this workshop reconstructed the mosaics of the St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Whenever you enter to a roman catholic church on the high altar you usually see the statue of the virgin Mary, or Jesus Christ, or both. Here in this church the statue on the high altar is the statue of first Hungarian king Saint Stephen; the statue is work of Alajos Stróbl. He was state founder, and he was the king, who forced the nomadic Hungarians to take the new religion, in other worlds he converted the nation in to Christianity. They had to ask for a special papal-permission to put the statue of a man on the high-altar, finally they have got the permission, so today his statue is to be seen here, which is quite unusual.