Why visit: architecture, history, mass, panorama, classical music
A Brief History of St. Stephen's Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest and can hold up to 8,500 people. Although in architectural terms it’s a cathedral, it was given the title of ‘basilica minor’ by Pope Pius XI in 1931. It took more than 50 years to build the Basilica. Building commenced in 1851, and the inauguration ceremony took place in 1906 and was attended by Emperor Franz Joseph. During its construction, in 1868 the dome collapsed and rebuilding it had to start almost from scratch, which explains the delay in the Basilica's completion. Architect Jozsef Hild who drafted the original plans and supervised the construction died in 1867. Miklós Ybl, one of Europe's leading architects in the mid to late 19th century, who also designed the Opera House, took over. When the dome collapsed in 1868, Ybl had to draft new plans. Unfortunately Ybl didn’t live to see the completion of the Basilica as he passed away in 1891, however work was finished according to his plans.
Originally designed in neo-classical style by Hild, the Basilica was finished in neo-renaissance style based on the plans of Ybl. The dome is 96 meters high, the exact same height as the Budapest Parliament Building. In fact current building regulations stipulate that no other structure in Budapest can be taller than 96 meters. Having the same height as the Parliament also symbolizes the balance between church and state in Hungary.
The patron saint of the church is St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. His mummified right hand is kept in a glass case in the chapel to the left of the main altar. The beautiful interior is also noteworthy as it is decorated by famous artists of the era. The most valuable artwork is the mosaic based on Gyula Benczur’s oil painting depicting the allegories of the holy mass. Another beautiful work by Benczur is the painting in which St. Stephen holds up the crown and asks the Virgin Mary to become the patron of Hungary.
Getting to St. Stephen's Basilica: Take the subway (M3) to Arany János utca
Insider Tips: For beautiful, panoramic views of Budapest walk up the stairs (364 steps) or take the elevators up to the dome's observation deck (open April 1st through Oct 31st). There's no cost to enter the church, but there is a nominal fee of HUF 500 to go up to the observation deck. The Basilica has two bell towers and Hungary’s largest bell, weighing 9.5 tons, which is located in the south tower.
Guided tours of the Basilica are also available Monday through Friday between 10 am and 3 pm, for a fee of HUF 2,000.
Organ concerts are held on Mondays starting at 5 pm year-round. Tickets are HUF 3,000. If you are a fan of classical music check out the Basilica’s event calendar (in Hungarian only) for concerts held throughout the year.
Visit St. Stephen's Basilica on Christmas Eve for the city's largest Midnight Mass.