St. Nicholas' Church or the Rác Templom (Serbian Church) as it is known by the locals, sits atop a small hill overlooking Eger's town centre. Its onion dome rises high above the surrounding buildings and is a distinctive landmark in the area.
Dome of St. Nicholas'
Fleeing the Ottoman advances into their homelands, Serb and Greek settlers began arriving in Eger in the sixteenth century. Before long a sizeable community had built up in the small narrow streets of Northern Eger, the only area in which they were permitted to live.
In order to accommodate the newcomers (and keep them distinctly separate from the locals), the diocese allowed them to worship in an old, abandoned Baroque church which had formerly been the property of the Augustine Order.
They rebuilt the church and added a bell tower in 1753 but this was not enough for some of the wealthy Greek and Serbian tradesmen (their wealth coming predominantly from the wine trade) who deemed the old church unworthy and demanded a new one.
The stunning gold leaf and braid iconastasis in St. Nicholas' Church is made up of 60 painted panels
In 1784 the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II visited Eger and a delegation from the Orthodox community met him to put forward their case for a new place of worship. The Emperor acquiesced and within a year work had begun.
The Roman Catholic bishop of Eger at the time, Karoly Esterházy, was not interested in the plans of the rival community and refused to give them any help.
However, he did stipulate that the new church had to be constructed outside of the town walls. Therefore it was built at the town's northern gate. The gate is long gone but the area is still known as the Rác Kapu or Serbian Gate.
The Orthodox Church rises above Eger's Baroque centre.
The church was designed by the architect Janos Povolni and took some 14 years to complete.
Entry to the church is through the southern doorway which was carved by Giovanni Adami who also made the doorway into the Franciscan Church in Eger's centre; the similarity between the two is striking.
The interior of the church is absolutely breathtaking, not least because of the dominating iconostasis separating the nave from the sanctuary. Carved by Nicola Jankovic and made up of 60 panels painted by Anton Kuchelmeister, it took two years to complete (1789-91)
The pulpit was never used
The pulpit is a work of art but was never used, rather services were conducted from an elevated platform located in front of the iconostasis.
During the service, men would stand in the central nave while women were pushed out of sight and made to gather at the rear of the building.
Female worshippers had to remain behind this screen at the rear of the building
There are pews of a sort, where the elderly and infirm were permitted to 'perch': they are not seats rather protruding pieces of wood which gave some support but not enough to get too comfortable.
'Pews' in St. Nicholas' were not designed for comfort, the big, strong arms were there so you could keep yourself upright as the seat was too narrow for extended 'perching'.
Today, there is no Orthodox community left in Eger and the church no longer holds services.
The exterior, in contrast to the interior, has seen better days and the whole place is in need of some tender, loving care.
Currently operating as a museum, St. Nicholas' is quite an adventure to visit.
In order to gain admittance visitors need to go to the Vitkovics House (see map), which used to be the Orthodox priest's residence.
Behind this house is a dilapidated but charming covered wooden stairway which takes you up to the church, sometimes it is necessary to ring a bell to get the attention of the caretaker, sometimes not.
10 metres by 12.5 metres the iconostasis took 2 years to complete
Although off the beaten track, the Orthodox St. Nicholas' is well worth visiting. The caretaker who accompanies you inside will probably not be able to speak any foreign languages, but there is some printed literature in the church which will aid in your appreciation of the building.