St Stephen’s Basilica - History and Facts | History Hit

St Stephen’s Basilica


St. Stephen’s Basilica is Budapest’s largest church and was completed in 1905.

Peta Stamper

14 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About St Stephen’s Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika) is Budapest’s largest church. Begun in 1851 and completed in 1905, St. Stephen’s Basilica was consecrated in the name of the canonised King, Stephen I of Hungary. One of the king’s relics, his right hand – known as the Holy Right and symbolic of his incorruptibility – is housed within the church. Today, the tower of St. Stephen’s Basilica is a great place from which to enjoy views of the city.

St. Stephen’s Basilica history

In the 18th century the site of the basilica was the Hetz-Theater, used for animal fights before being turned into a church by a wealthy citizen, János Zitterbarth. By the late 1810s the population of the parish had swelled so that they began fundraising for a larger, grander church.

St. Stephen’s Basilica was completed in 1905, 54 years after construction began. The delay can be pointed to the collapse of the dome in 1868 after which the entire church was started again. The style of the basilica was Neo-Classical, as was fashionable at the time, and the height was no taller than the Hungarian Parliament Buildings to symbolise the equal importance of spirituality and government in Hungarian culture.

There was indecision about who to name the basilica after: St. Leopold the patron saint of Austria was the original choice but last minute the church was dedicated to Hungary’s first King, Stephen I. This choice reinforced Hungary’s Christian heritage, as Stephen was Hungary’s first Christian monarch and his reign between 1001 and 1038 was noted for establishing the religion.

St. Stephen’s Basilica today

Throughout the year, St. Stephen’s Basilica is known for hosting splendid classical concerts particularly during the Budapest Spring Festival. Inside the church you can admire the dark yet ornately decorated high altar, intricate mosaics, the impressive dome depicting God and St. Stephen’s famous right hand.

Visitors can ride a lift up or climb 364 stairs to gain a panoramic view of Budapest. Entry to the basilica is free, but there is an opportunity to make a small donation if you wish. There are also guided tours but they cost 1600 HUF for a standard ticket.

Getting to St. Stephen’s Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica is in the city’s centre so you cannot miss it on foot. The easiest way of getting there is using public transport – catch the Metro blue line to Arany János utca station or the yellow line to Bajcsy-Zsilinszky ut station.

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