Faces Behind the Places in Budapest: Szent Gellért
Photo : László Balkányi/We Love Budapest
25/3/2016, 7:55 AM●5-minute article
Dramatically rising from the Buda riverfront and topped by the Liberation Monument and Citadel, Gellért Hill is a serenely impressive sight – but nearly a millennium ago this was the very scene of Saint Gellért’s martyrdom amid vicious pagan uprisings. In addition to this mini mountain, several Budapest sites bear the name of the Italian monk who served as one of Hungary’s first bishops; later Gellért was canonized to become a patron saint of the country. Here we unveil the story of this consecrated man of courage, and guide you to his namesake public places across Budapest and beyond.
When the Italian Benedictine monk who was originally named Gerard Sagredo embarked on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, his itinerary didn’t include Hungary, but during his sacred journey a stormy wind sent his boat towards the newly established Magyar land, where a life-changing meeting with King Stephen I sealed his fate. The deeply devout Christian king assigned Gellért (“Gerard” in Hungarian) to become the tutor for his son, Prince Emeric, which inspired the wandering monk to settle down in this country to help establish Christianity here. After the prince’s education was completed, Gellért wandered deep into the Bakony Hills in western Hungary to live as a hermit, before the king appointed him as the Bishop of the Diocese of Csanád in the southern regions of Hungary.
Events took a dark turn after the king’s death, with the outbreak of a violent revolt against Christianity in 1046, when Gellért was exterminated by the pagan rebels. There are various accounts of Gellért’s death, but the most widespread version is that at the time of the uprisings, the bishop was forced into a barrel and cast to his death from a hill – the metropolitan mound that we now call Gellért Hill. He was canonized in 1083, along with St. Stephen and his son St. Emeric, and thus St. Gellért became one of the patron saints of Hungary. The church remembers this holy man annually with a feast day on September 24th, while many notable locales across Budapest and beyond are named after the saint.
Photo: László Balkányi/We Love Budapest 5 pictures
Towering above Buda’s riverfront skyline, Gellért Hill– where the holy man’s life is believed to have ended – is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. There are many compelling sights and panoramic viewpoints that make a climb up the hill worthwhile, and those who long to hike it can take two distinct paths: visitors can ascend the stairway that begins under St. Gellért’s sculpted figure, as he gracefully stands with his arm raised skywards with a cross in hand above the Elizabeth Bridge, or we can opt to embark on a slightly longer hike starting near the Gellért Bath. After reaching the peak, the Citadel is one of Budapest’s most panoramic landmarks – the magnificent monument was built by the occupying Hapsburg Empire in 1854, specifically because almost every part of the city is visible from this vantage point. Meanwhile, toward the base of the tree-shaded slopes near the Liberty Bridge, the unique Cave Church is a stone-carved shrine built directly into the hillside in 1931, becoming a popular tourist attraction that boasts a mild interior temperature all year.
St. Gellért Square
Photo: László Balkányi/We Love Budapest 3 pictures
As we walk across the statuesque Liberty Bridge from Pest to the city’s Buda side, the picturesque St. Gellért Square welcomes us with intriguing architecture and visible history. This increasingly popular piazza is filling with life over recent years, and it’s no wonder why: the vibrant public space is easily accessible on a central Buda-side location, yet peacefully removed from the urban buzz. As a result of a recent renovation to install a new M4 metro stop (connecting to many tram and bus lines here), the economy around the square is gaining momentum over the last couple years, with several chic hangouts popping up in neighboring buildings, filling the area with wallet-friendly cafés and bars; the marvellous Art Nouveau Gellért Hotel and the sylvan scene of Gellért Hilladd a graceful backdrop to this urban hub.
Photo: László Balkányi/We Love Budapest 6 pictures
Majestically located on St. Gellért Square, the historic Gellért Hotelwas once Budapest’s leading luxury destinations, and even though its splendor has faded slightly by now, the artful riverside property still shines with its original charm. Housing such facilities as the city’s famous Gellért Bath, and the recently revamped Gellért Brasserie, guests at the Gellért Hotel can expect classic hospitality amid panoramic settings, near one of Buda’s most convenient transport hubs.
Featuring elaborate ornaments, elegant stained-glass windows, and colorful mosaics, a spectacular Art Nouveau edifice houses this medical mecca, towered over by the tree-covered slopes of Gellért Hill. Visitors from all over the world flock to Budapest’s globally-revered Gellért Bath to let their muscles melt in the indoor thermal baths, where the water temperatures soar as high as 40°C/104°F. Guests can plunge into the spa’s unique red-wine bath, provided as part of the complex’s extensive wellness services, while during summer months the outdoor wave pool offers a fun zone for sunshine aficionados.
Planet Gellért Hill
St. Gellért not only inspired the name for various urban settings across Budapest, but across Hungary and beyond – in one case, extremely far beyond. A sizable extraterrestrial body is freshly named after the saint: a minor planet,discovered by a duo of Hungarian astronomers in 1998, is now officially named Gellért Hill. Completing its orbit of the Sun every 2.7 years, the name of the celestial traveler was selected in December 2015 to mark the 200th anniversary of the erstwhile Uraniae Observatory, once located on Gellért Hill.
Besides the aforementioned settings, we can spot several other buildings in Budapest bearing the name of the Benedictine monk, like the St. Gellért Church in Budapest-Kelenföld, or the St. Gellért Catholic Schoolon Distirct IV’s Krisztina Square, all standing as a legacy of the ecclesiastic character.
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