Eger Basilica

Eger Basilica

Size matters

Eger's Basilica is not what you'd call beautiful but it is certainly impressive, standing on Eszterházy Square and facing another colossal piece of architecture, the Lyceum, it just demands your attention.

Ironically, in a town known for its Baroque buildings, this, the largest structure, is in the neo-classical style. It is the third largest cathedral in the country after Esztergom's and St. István's Basilica in Budapest.

Look at me!

The main entrance faces west and is approached by three large flights of steps flanked by four statues. The first two are the Hungarian beatified kings, Saint Ladislaus and St. Stephen, beyond them are the two apostles Peter and Paul. All four were carved by the Venetian Marco Cassagrande who was brought over by Archbishop Pyrker to Eger to do the work.

Above the portico is a tympanum supported by six Corinthian columns with the Latin inscription `Venite Adoremus Deum` (`Come and Adore the Lord`).

Eger`s Basilica is the third largest church in Hungary

Looking over the tympanum are the allegorical figures of Faith, Hope and Charity also by Cassagrande, although they are not the originals.

We also have the Venetian to thank for the marble reliefs, depicting scenes from the Old and Nw Testaments at the entrance and throughout the interiors.

A Building Fit for Eger

Archbishop Pyrker was the man responsible for the building of the Basilica. On his appointment as Archbishop, he had the existing Baroque Cathedral knocked down feeling that it was was just not grand enough for an archdiocese of Eger`s status.

He commissioned the renowned architect Jozsef Hild to design the building and work began in 1831. The exterior was finished in 1836 and the interior a whole lot later.

In hindsight, it is far too big a church for Eger`s needs and today the small congregation gets swallowed up in the cavernous interior.

It is, however, a most impressive building and well worth a visit.

The floor plan of the Basilica is in the shape of a Latin cross. The entrance is to the East, the chancel to the West and the transept runs from North to South.

The nave can be split into three distinct areas, each with a dome (see below). The chancel also has a dome and is demarcated from the nave by vaulting.

The two aisles (north and south) are separated from the nave by 8 massive Corinthian columns. It was in 1970 that Eger's Cathedral was designated a basilica by the then Pope, Paul VI.

Floor plan of Eger's Basilica

The interior is enormous and so full of sights to see that I can't do justice to it here I will,  however, list those parts of the Basilica I feel are worth the time and effort to hunt down.

The Domes

There are three domes altogether:

  • The first, as you come from the entrance, was painted by István Takács, the noted Maryó artist, from Mezőkövesd in 1950. It was created during a great period of turmoil when the Church was under attack from the government of the day, and is an attempt to show the continuing strong links between the Hungarian Church and the Holy See of Rome

Takács István's first dome

  • The second, the Great Dome, also by Takács István, is an interpretation of the Revelation of St.John (The Apocalypse). The biblical inscription in Hungarian running around the edge reads '...and God will dry up all the tears from our eyes, and there will be no more death nor cries of pain'
  • The dome closest to the altar is perhaps the least interesting but the spandrels (the four curving 'corners' of the dome) were painted by Béla Sándor in 1910 and depict four Hungarian saints (St. Gellért, Szent Imre, Saint Ladislaus and John of Capistrano)

Altar to Archangel Michael

Although the main altar is pretty impressive, it is the smaller altar to the left of the chancel at the western end of the south aisle that is particularly beautiful. Created from white Italian Carrera marble, the finest carving marble there is, by Albert Schickenden the cupola is its most outstanding feature.

The altar painting portraying Archangel Michael killing Lucifer with a spear is the work of Michelangelo Grigoletti (1838)

The Altar to Archangel Michael

Chapel of the Blessed Virgin

At the western end of the northern aisle i.e. exactly opposite to the altar of Archangel Michael, stands the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin. Usually this is locked and you will have to look for the keyholder who may or may not be in the building.

The central focus of this chapel is the icon of the Weeping Madonna, a replica of the famous Black Madonna Icon that, allegedly, and miraculously, wept real tears in the small Hungarian town of Mariapocs and was taken to Vienna by the Hapsburgs. This copy was created by court painter to Leopold I.

Decorating the walls of the chapel are 11 frescoes painted by Ferenc Szoldatits, Hungary's only Nazerene painter (the Nazerenes rejected neo-classicism wishing to return to the style of Raphael and the other 14th century Italian painters).

Eger's Basilica boasts the second largest organ in Hungary

The Organ

On the balcony above the entrance sits the organ. Built between 1833 and 1836 by the Angster factory, it was converted to electricity in the 1960s. It is the second largest in Hungary, and has around 8000 pipes.

Kodály Zoltán, the respected Hungarian composer and music ethnographer, stated that its tonality rivalled that of any organ in Europe.

Celebrating Mass

Eger's Basilica is of course a working cathedral and it is possible to celebrate mass there although it will be in Hungarian. Please see below for times (as of 2014):

  • Weekdays and Saturdays: 07.00, 08.00 and 18.30
  • Sundays: 07.00, 08.30, 10.00, 11.30 and 18.30

During the summer months there are also regular organ recitals the times of which can be found at the entrance to the cathedral, there is a charge for these.

Recently there seems to be charge for tourists entering the Basilica, peronally I think it is a travesty being charged to enter the House of God but the times demand it, I suppose.

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