August 16th, the feast day of St. Stephen of Hungary is a good time to learn about this important man of the Church and the State who envisioned a Christian Hungary – and also to visit, even if virtually, two enormous churches associated with him.
St. Stephen was born in Esztergom, Hungary in 975 with a given name of Vaik. He was the son of the Hungarian duke Geza and duchess Sarolt. Legend has it that his mother had a vision in which the first century martyr St. Stephen told her that her future son would bring Christianity to the then pagan Hungary.
Young Vaik was raised as a Christian and baptized in 985 and then renamed Stephen. He shared his father’s dream of bringing Christianity to Hungary. Upon the death of his father in 997, the rule of Hungary was assumed by Stephen with the defeat of his older cousin, Koppány, at Veszprém in 998. On Christmas Day in the year 1000, Stephen was anointed King of Hungary with the support of Pope Sylvester II (999-1003).
King Stephen used his wealth to build monasteries in the country; and the clergy helped to convert the people. He was known as a benevolent King with attention to the poor and sick, as well as his family and the Church. He had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and directed the building of several churches in her honor.
King Stephen is considered to be the originator of the Hungarian state and is Hungary’s patron saint. He died on Aug. 15, 1038 and was canonized with his son Emeric in 1083.
There are two spectacular basilicas associated with St. Stephen: the first is St. Stephen’s Basilica in the heart of Budapest; and the second is the Esztergom Basilica situated on the Danube Bend, just upriver to the north of Budapest.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
The Neoclassical building in central Budapest took 54 years to complete with the final interior decorations installed in 1905. The famous Hungarian architect, József Hild oversaw the construction until his death in 1867 – the remaining building was supervised by architect Miklós Ybl. The ornate interior is filled with beautiful artwork and mosaics including a large statue of St. Stephen of Hungary on the main altar. However, many visitors are attracted to the basilica because of the presence of the “Holy Right” – the incorrupt right hand of St. Stephen of Hungary. The basilica is 96 meters high (315 feet) and equals the Hungarian Parliament Building as the tallest structures in the city. From this height, visitors can get spectacular views of the city via the open-air walkway surrounding the central dome. The building houses six bells, including the 9,250 kilogram (20,393 pounds) St. Stephen’s bell which is the largest in Hungary. The church is the co-cathedral of the Archdiocese of Esztergom-Budapest. See the basilica virtually at: https://www.bazilika.biz/en/
In Esztergom, the location of the birth of St. Stephen in 975, is the tallest church in Hungary at 100 meters, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption and Saint Adalbert - also known as the Esztergom Basilica. About 40 kilometers (25 miles) up the Danube River from Budapest sits the wonderful Esztergom Basilica on the hills overlooking the scenic “Danube Bend”. This site overlooking the sharp curve in the river has been the location of seven churches, with the earliest in the 11th century - the building of the present basilica started in 1822, and finished over 40 years later in 1869. The artwork in the church includes the large painting of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Girolamo Michelangelo Grigoletti (1801-1870). The lower level of the church (the crypt) is the burial place of several church leaders while the upper level includes an outdoor walkway with spectacular views of the Danube River and surrounding countryside. See the basilica virtually at: https://www.bazilika-esztergom.hu/en/