The oldest church in Budapest is the inner city parish church (Church of the Assumption of Mary) in Pest. A visit to this church is a true insider tip for Budapest. A wonderful church can be discovered in a peaceful atmosphere, far away from the tourist masses.
Passing the bridgehead of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side of the river the inner-city parish church can hardly be missed.
The building is only mere centimetres (25cm) away from the busy road. But aside from what all the rumours want you to believe, the church has never actually been moved to another position. The road accommodates the location of the building and leads alongside it in a gentle curve.
The exterior of the church is relatively understated and doesn’t give away what can be discovered inside. But those who look closely can still find interesting details of the façade. The Baroque main gate is stunning and above a smaller entrance, I discovered a skull. This door used to lead into the bone chamber of the church back in the days.
2000 years of a churches history – in short
The inner city parish church was built on top of the remains of a rectangular storehouse that dates back to the Roman settlement. Around 350 A.D. this spot used to be the location of a military control room. The remains can still be marvelled at in the church today.
Stephan I. (1000 – 1038) had a church built on top of the ruins to honour Virgin Mary. Excavations uncovered graves near the sacristy that presumably date back to the time of the original church.
Legend has it that St. Gellért was buried here after his death. A relic in the church commemorates him.
Renovation works commenced in the 14th century during which the choir in today’s shape was created.
On the 23rd of January 1458 a congregation appointed Matthias Corvinius King of Hungary inside this very church. On the next day, the people concordantly voted for him in an election held on the frozen Danube.
From 1541 on, over the time the Turkish ruled over this area, it was used as a Friday Mosque.
A Mihrab in the choir still reminds visitors of these times.
After the Turkish reign came to an end in 1686, more work was done to the church.
The baroque nave and South Tower were constructed and the North Tower and façade further extended the building towards the end of the 17th century.
In the 19th century, interesting times began for the church.
Some of the most noteworthy events during that time were the lecture of Kolping in 1856 which started the Kolping Movement in Hungary.
Between 1858 and 1871 Franz Liszt lived in the rectory and conducted his own works in the church.
After the World Wars, the church was rebuilt in several phases. Frescoes were discovered in the choir in 2010 and were then properly restored. Remains of old walls from the Roman times and the Medieval Period were discovered during excavations in 2014/2015. A lower church beneath the inner city parish church was created and is now home to the findings of the excavations.
Inner city parish Budapest – our visit
We found the main gate locked on the day of our visit to the church and so we entered the building through a side entrance. The fists glimpse into the church manifested my first impression: modest but colourful and warm, the design made me feel comfortable. Big windows make for a well-lit and inviting nave.
The first closer investigation brought us to a small window on the floor. Through it, we saw some of the remains from the Roman Period.
We then walked further down the nave were left in awe when we saw the sacrament alcove from the Renaissance Period in one of the chapels. Created in 1507 it is made of red marble and yellow-white limestone. It was gifted to the church by the town Pest. The town emblem with the castle walls and the tower can be found on the pedestal and is particularly beautiful. It was used for inspiration for the new emblem after the unification of the towns Buda and Pest in 1872. A relic of King Ladislaus I The Holy is kept in the alcove.
The church’s choir is characterised by its 23 sections, its one bigger compartment and the Turkish prayer section.
The latter dates back to the Turkish rule over the area.
In 2010 some frescoes from the 14th century were found in the sections during renovation works.
There are still quite a few unanswered questions about them and the researchers did not come to a final conclusion but it can already be seen that the re-discovered tableaus are wonderful.
I particularly liked The enthroned Madonna.
The high altar by Pál C. Molnár was created in the 19th century. We got to experience the story of St. Mary through the pictures on it during our visit. For the Easter period, the wings of the altar piece are closed and the outside shows the Passion of Christ.
The people’s altar is made of limestone and has a small opening through which the heels and some vertebra of St. Gellért can be seen. This relict was given to the church in 2002 by the Island of Murano. And so, after over 950 years, pieces of the bishop made it back to the place he was buried.
A special eye-turner is the organ. It was constructed in 1932 and has 5261 pipes. We witnessed their magnificent sound on a concert on the first advent. Many concerts, often free of charge, are held in the church and are always well attended. Every year on the 5th of December, the day of Mozart’s death, his Requiem gets played. It’s very first performance also happened to take place in the inner-city parish church in Budapest.
Before we proceeded to the lower church we stopped at a ceramic statue. It shows a “Hungarian Family”. Father and mother are firmly rooted in Hungarian soil and are surrounded by their four children. A fabulous work that I liked a lot.
The lower church of the inner city parish church
A little hidden, near the main portal of the church, is the entrance to the lower church.
Following a small staircase, we came through a little museum first. Religious items from the 16th and 17th century are exhibited here.
Then we passed a small hallway and entered the lower church. Old stone walls and the remains of the old foundations are what gives the lower church its distinct atmosphere. In the right (southern) nave are the remains of the roman commando room. From down here one can get an even better view than through the window through the floor from above.
The choir holds statues that depict the 12 apostles and right in the middle is a stone altar that fits perfectly into the ensemble.
A little separate section is the home of the Madonna of Nuremberg. It is made from Carrara marble and breathtakingly beautiful. The Proberger crypt from 1699 is located in the northern nave. This is where the human remains were buried after they were unearthed during excavation works in and around the church.