Situated in the heart of Budapest is my second favorite building in the city, St. Stephen’s Basilica. Considered the most important church in Budapest, the basilica is one of the two tallest buildings in the area– 96 meters. The other building is the Hungarian Parliament, also standing at 96 meters. The symbolic message doesn’t need much interpretation, and this is similar to the style of Central American cities which are situated around a central square. The city hall and cathedral are placed facing each other and usually of equal stature.
The basilica is named after the first King of Hungary. Oddly, his 1000 year old mummified right hand is on display inside the church… if that’s something you would really want to see.
Starting at 10am and costing approximately $2 per adult, you can choose to walk up 364 stairs for what amounts to the best views within downtown Pest. I recommend going in the morning or around sunset in order to get the best lighting. The morning has the least crowds. As an introvert, that’s an important fact to keep in mind.
I had the pleasure of bringing a Romanian friend of mine to St. Stephen’s Basilica for his first visit. Despite living and studying in Budapest for a year now, he still had not been to one of the most important landmarks of the city–a 5 minute walk from his house. We arrived around 11:30am and enjoyed small crowds and cold weather. We waited on top of the basilica until noon, at which point both bell towers started to chime. There are six small and medium sized bells in one tower and the other holds a single giant bell. It is actually the biggest bell in Hungary, weighing over 9 tons.
I did notice that the bell doesn’t just ring 12 times at noon. It rings continuously for about 75 seconds. I don’t know the significance of this, but if anyone else does, please fill this nerd in with the information.
After exploring the balcony and enjoying the views, we made our way downstairs to tour the main sanctuary. For another entrance fee of around fifty cents we got to enjoy the beauty and splendor of this 110 year old church. There is a donation box at the door and a heavily robed priest piously stands over it to make sure everyone is paying their required donation… We even went to see the gross hand thing, and I had a nice chuckle when I saw a coin slot that controlled the mood lighting for the hand cabinet. I guess if you want a good view of the hand, you have to pay by the minute… wtf? To top it all off there is a gift shop at the exit. I loved the experience, but the pay per view style is a bit tacky for a church.
Actually, I can’t complain. It’s a great experience and for $3, it’s an unbeatable value.
For more info: Official Basilica Site