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Budapest’s 10 most amazing churches

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  • We Love Budapest

14/09/2021 3.49pm

From Gothic to Baroque to Bauhaus, rising high above the city or buried below ground, the churches of Budapest are impressive sights to see and reflect a millennium or more of ecclesiastical history. Here we pick out our ten favourites, either for their stunning architecture or intricate design solutions.

Photo: Balkányi László - We Love Budapest

Cave Church

1/10

1114 Budapest, Szent Gellért rakpart 1.

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The Cave Church of Our Lady of Hungary is the most unusual in Budapest and belongs to the only Hungarian-founded order of monks, the Paulines. The order was dissolved by Joseph II in 1786 together with several others. The monks only returned home in 1934, when the Cave Monastery was built for them on the Danube side of Gellért Hill, and the cavity formed by a natural cave became a church. The idea came from Hungarian pilgrims visiting Lourdes in 1924, and they wanted to build a domestic version of the shrine here. Under Communism, the monks were sent away, the church was closed, the monastery later became a dormitory of the State Ballet Institute, not reopened until 1989. Between steep cliffs, they not only hold Mass but also act as a visitor centre, preserving one of the most valuable relics of the Pauline Order, the shin of St Paul the Hermit.

Photo: Krisztián Bódis/WLB

Church of St Anthony of Padua

2/10

1026 Budapest, Pasaréti út 137

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The sight of the 46-metre-high bell tower of the Church of St Anthony of Padua beckons over the roof of the semi-circular Pasarét bus terminal, with the green expanse of Hunyad-orom and János Hill in the background. In the first half of the 20th century, Bauhaus-style villas (including the stand-out Napraforgó utca estate) were built, row upon row, in the leafy district of Pasarét, and churches were no exception. Even modern forms and materials such as reinforced concrete were used, harder to express in more elegant architectural terms. Architect Gyula Rimanóczy had no easy task in conceiving his plans either, but his church was consecrated in 1934, with a relief of St Francis and St Anthony on its façade, a hall-like, beautifully lit interior and stained-glass windows by Lili Sztehlo Árkayné. In 1938, the bus terminal was completed next to it, also following a design by Rimanóczy.

Photo: Gretchen Kessler - We Love Budapest

Church of Szent László in Kőbánya

3/10

1102 Budapest, Szent László tér 25

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A notable attraction in Kőbánya is the Church of Szent László on the main square next to the row of cellars, with the second tallest church tower in Budapest at 83 metres – only St Stephen’s Basilica is higher. This magnificent and detailed church was built between 1894 and 1899, worked on by the best craftsmen and designers of the age: Ödön Lechner, the Grand Master of Hungarian Art Nouveau architecture, designed it in an eclectic-Art Nouveau style, combining Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Persian and Hungarian folk styles. Originally, he wanted to make use of more Oriental-Byzantine influences, but he had to suppress this because of the resistance of the day. He could only fulfil his desires with a few motifs, in the bronze door decorations of the entrance and in the domed structures above the main altar. The most dazzling parts of the interior are the Zsolnay majolica altars, built by Vilmos Zsolnay, together with the pulpit and other ornamental-figural ornaments. Outstanding among all of these is the main altar, whose altarpiece depicting Szent László is the work of Ignác Roskovich, a renowned ecclesiastical painter of the day.

Photo: Peterjon Cresswell/We Love Budapest

Inner City Church of St Anne’s

4/10

1052 Budapest, Szervita tér 6

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Right in the city centre, St Anne’s was built in the earlier 1700s in then fashionable Baroque style. Immediately after the liberation of Budapest from Turkish rule in 1686, the Servite Order were given permission to build a church, together with a monastery, on the site of a former mosque. Both were completed in 1732.  Today only the church building remains, surrounded by public buildings and offices, the monastery damaged during the war and never rebuilt. In its place, the Communist authorities attached an ugly post-war post office. As for the church, the façade and bell tower were remodelled in 1871, while the remaining elements are pretty much original.

Photo: Bartha Dorka - We Love Budapest

Inner City Parish Church

5/10

1056 Budapest, Március 15. tér

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Urban myth has it this church had to be pushed to one side during the construction of Elizabeth Bridge, but this is not the only strange thing about its architecture: one of the oldest and richest historical buildings in Budapest has been redesigned 14 times. The crypt has been open to the public since 2017 and can be seen through the glass floor – it goes all the way back to Roman times, as the first church was erected on the walls of a former garrison in the 11th century. Below, you can also see an exhibition of archaeological excavations, the new chapel serving as a community and prayer space, and the Proberger crypt, built in 1699, in which 19th-century aristocrats rest, as well as Bishop Gellért (as in Gellért Hill). It was later used by the Turks as a mosque. The structure you see today dates back to the 16th century, with Baroque touches added after an 18th-century fire. It was later restored by architectural giant Imre Steindl, who designed Parliament. In 2020, both towers were also opened to the public, providing stunning views over the city.

Photo: Balkányi László - We Love Budapest

Matthias Church

6/10

1014 Budapest, Szentháromság tér 2.

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This impressive landmark that dominates the top of Castle Hill alongside Buda Palace owes its Gothic look to a painstaking makeover by Frigyes Schulek and its distinctive bright roof tiles to the famous Zsolnay factory in Pécs. The Church of Our Lady, known as Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom) after the Renaissance king who held his two weddings there, dates back to 1015, shortly after the country's conversion to the Christian faith. It was rebuilt in Gothic style in the 14th century, before being converted into a mosque by the invading Ottomans in the 1500s. It then gained a Baroque transformation before Schulek went back to the original medieval plans to restore it as Matthias would have known it. Shortly afterwards, in 1916, the last king of Hungary, Karl I, was crowned here. Like so much of Buda, the church suffered significant damage during World War II. Restoration was slow. Thanks to its latest reconstruction between 2006-2013, it now stands in its old glory again. You can also climb its lace-like southern tower, via the 197 steps of a spiral staircase, to gain views of its enormous bells and weather vane, as well as the landmarks of Budapest.

Photo: Balkányi László - We Love Budapest

St Anne’s

7/10

1011 Budapest, Batthyány tér 7

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Dominating one side of Batthyány tér, the Upper Watertown Church of St Anne’s Parish was built in the mid-1700s when Budapest was given a Baroque makeover by its incoming Habsburg overlords. Planned by Kristóf Hamon, it was completed by Máté Nöpauer after the architect’s death in 1748. Completed in 1761, it suffered significant damage from an earthquake only two years later, and Hamon’s son János was involved in its reconstruction. Today, two towers 55 metres high rise over the constant bustle around this busy Buda transport hub directly opposite Parliament. The Angelika café occupies part of the building, its terrace overlooking the river. 

Photo: Kálló Péter - We Love Budapest

St Stephen’s Basilica

8/10

1051 Budapest, Szent István tér 1.

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St Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest. Planning and construction took 54 years, involving three chief architects and the collapse of the entire dome nearly two decades into the project. It was around this time that Miklós Ybl of Opera House fame took over the reins, though his death in 1891 meant that József Kauser saw the Basilica through to its completion. Deliberately designed to reach an exact height of 96 metres, the same as Parliament, the Basilica wasn’t ready for the 1896 Hungarian Millennial celebrations, only seeing the light of day in 1905. Today, accommodating 8,000 worshippers, characterised by rich ornamentation and huge windows radiating light and dignity, it provides a suitable setting for state funerals. The public can observe the somewhat macabre sight of the preserved right hand, the Holy Dexter, of Hungary’s first king, St Stephen, kept as a relic in the main aisle. While one lift takes you to the treasury, the other goes up to the dome, with marvellous views over the city. The Basilica also hosts recitals and concerts.

Photo: Szigetváry Zsolt – MTI

University Church of the Assumption

9/10

1053 Budapest, Papnövelde utca 8

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The University Church of the Assumption (Egyetemi Kisboldogasszony-templom) in Budapest’s historic university quarter was unveiled in 2020 after long-term renovation. The church, and the adjacent monastery, were originally built by the Paulines in the early 1700s, and the first Mass was held in 1742. The towers were duly completed in 1768 and 1771. In 1786, after the dissolution of the Pauline order, the church became the property of Péter Pázmány University, and from 1803 onwards it was the joint church of the University, and the Central Institute for Priestly Education (Központi Papnevelő Intézet). The renovation required a billion forints of state support. The copper cladding of the tower was cleaned and repaired, the sculptures were restored and the sacristy renovated. The floor cladding was also replaced.

Photo: Kőrösi Tamás - We Love Budapest

Városmajor Heart of Jesus Parish Church

10/10

1122 Budapest, Csaba utca 5

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Another stunning example of modern ecclesiastical architecture is the Heart of Jesus Parish Church on the edge of Városmajor. Its tower is clearly visible from almost all parts of Buda and its compact structure is counterbalanced by stained-glass windows above the sanctuary (by Lili Sztehlo Árkayné, also responsible for St Anthony of Padua in Pasarét, see above). The work of Aladár Árkay, consecrated in 1933, the first modern reinforced-concrete church in Budapest also caused great outrage among conservatives, and was ridiculed as ’God’s Garage in Városmajor’. He designed the building together with his son, Bertalan, signifying a quiet revolution in architecture, but didn’t stay alive long enough to witness its consecration. Surprisingly, even in the spacious nave, houseplants enrich the interior. In 1942, a bomb attack hit the now-listed church, and the outline of the impact resembles a statue of the Virgin Mary.

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