Named after Saint Stephen of Hungary, the first King of Hungary, the building is the most important ecclesiastical building in the country as well as one of the most visited sights in Budapest. It was originally going to be called St. Leopold, after the patron saint of Austria, but the plan was changed at the very last minute. At 96m (315ft) high it is, along with the parliament building, the tallest structure in the city, in fact, current building regulations forbid the building of any structures taller.
In the late 18thcentury a new parish, Lipótváos, was created in Budapest. A local businessman, János Zitterbarth, had already built a temporary church but it was decided a larger one was needed. Things didn’t begin well. After a fundraising drive, József Hild designed the new basilica with its construction beginning in 1845. Unfortunately, due to poor construction materials, the dome collapsed and the building had to be destroyed. Miklós Ybl, inspired by the dome of the parliament building, created a new church centred around a dome of equal height to the parliament building and guarded by two towers and it was finished in 1905. This renaissance inspired design was damaged by fire in 1946, but fully restored and consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1991.
Laid out in the shape of a Greek cross, the interior is a wonderful display of contrasts; light against dark, black & white and sturdy architecture with delicate art. The statue of St. Stephen adorns the high altar along with bronze reliefs showing significant events in his life on the wall behind. The dome is decorated with impressive mosaics by Károly Lotz and the Altar of the Virgin Mary by Gyula Benczúr which shows St. Stephen offering his crown to Mary on the death of his only son.
The Right Hand of St. Stephen
The reliquary of the basilica contains the right hand of St. Stephen and is without doubt their prized possession. It is mounted in a casket in the Chapel of the Sacred Right and paraded through the streets on the on August 20, the saint’s day. St. Stephen was buried on August 15, 1038 in Székesfehérvár, Central Hungary. His body was then reburied in a lower underground catacomb for fear of people disturbing his grave. It was during this re-burial, that the hand was removed as it reportedly has miraculous qualities. It was then taken to the treasury of the basilica where the man, who was responsible for guarding it, stole it and hid it on his estate in the County of Bihor, modern day Romania. King Lászlo I found it, forgave the thief, then built a monastery on the spot where it was. The place became a pilgrimage site as it was believed the hand was capable of performing miracles. With the Turkish occupation the hand was moved to Ragusa, modern day Dubrovnik, where it was held by Dominican Friars. Empress Maria Theresa then purchased it and gave it as a gift to her Hungarian subjects.
The façade is anchored by two bell towers. The southern one contains Hungary’s largest bell, weighing 9 tonnes