Sunday, November 13, 2016

184. King St Stephen's Right Hand

Seeing as it is Sunday, I thought we better go visit a church - and in the centre of Budapest I found the magnificent Neo-Classical St Stephens Basilica.


The site of today's basilica was a theater in the 18th century - named Hetz-Theater - and was a place that hosted animal fights. One of Budapest’s wealthy citizens (Zitterbarth János) of the newly formed district, built a temporary church there and then in the late 1810s, about a few hundred people formed the Lipótváros Parish, and they then began fundraising and the making plans for the future church. However, construction works did not start until August 14, 1851.

Dedicated to the holy King St Stephen I ( the founder of the Hungarian state ) ( c 975 – 1038 ), and whose supposed “incorruptible” right hand is housed in the reliquary ( but more of that later … ), the Basilica is equal in height with the Hungarian Parliament Building, at 96 metres - this equation symbolises that worldly and spiritual thinking have the same importance. According to current regulations there cannot be a taller building in Budapest than 96 metres.


On January 22, 1868, during the initial building, the cupola and the cupola drum collapsed due to defects in materials and craftmanship. The pillars holding the arches of the cupola were constructed with donated stones of assorted quality and solidity. The cupola drum was built on the inner rim of the arches underpinning it, resulting in a precariously balanced structure which distributed the load unevenly on the pillars. The imbalance of the structure in turn gave rise to the collapse, after which works paused for more than a year, when the removal of the debris and the demolition of the poorly constructed parts commenced and then re-building continued until 1871.

The building of the Basilica was then fully completed in 1905 after 54 years of construction, according to the plans of Miklós Ybl, and was completed by József Kauser. 

Visitors can now access the look-out - a walkway around the outside of the dome - by using the two elevators and some walking, instead of having to climb 364 stairs.

And the view of the city and surrounding countryside from this vantage point is spectacular - even on this cold partly overcast day ...

 A view of Buda Castle on the other bank of the Danube ...


The Right Hand of King St Stephen 

The death of King St Stephen in 1038 was followed by a turbulent period characterized by struggles for the throne. He was buried in Székesfehérvár in a sarcophagus that is today, more or less intact although empty. 

The chapter of Fehérvár feared that the embalmed and mummified corpse might be desecrated, therefore ordered its removal from the marble sarcophagus standing in the middle of the local church, and hid it in the tomb under the church. It was at this time that the right hand of the king, which had remained intact and was believed to have miraculous power, was detached and taken to the treasury of the church.

Later on, a treasury ward by the name of Merkur stole the holy relic and hid it on his estate in Bihar. When king St Ladislaus heard about the relic, he visited Merkur on his estate to seek out the truth of the missing hand. He forgave the theft and founded an abbey at the place where the Holy Right Hand was found in honour of the sainted king and in order to provide a worthy place for the holy relic. Many centuries later, and much traveling, somehow the relic ended up in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

When Emperess Maria Theresa ( 1717 – 1780 ) ( who was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg. She was the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma – and in her spare time gave birth to had 16 children – including the infamous Marie Antoinette ) ( she was indeed a busy woman … ) – when she learnt of the relic’s location, she did her best to get it back to the Austrian capital.

After lengthy diplomatic negotiations, it was finally extradited by the monks of Raguza, and on April 16, 1771 it arrived in Vienna. Queen Maria Theresa then gave it as a gift to to her Hungarian subjects and after much traveling about the countryside, it has ended up in a side chapel at St Stephens Basilica. The remaining parts of the good king were divided up and dispatched to various other churches throughout the kingdom.

... and I promise you, that it is not I that has made this story up …

To view the hand properly, visitors to the chapel need to deposit 200HUF ( about $1) in a machine that turns a light on inside the reliquary – I decided to put my money rather towards a coffee where I could sit and contemplate the definite benefits of cremation ... !!! ... 

A trip to Buda Castle coming up in my next blog post ...