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St. Bernard`s Church and Order House

Earthquakes, fires and dissolution             

With the liberation of Eger in 1687, some of the mosques which had served the Turks` spiritual needs were handed over to the religious orders that began to reappear in the city.

One of these returning groups was the Jesuits who laid the foundation stone for their new church, St. Bernard`s, and order house in 1700.

The order house was completed in 1727 to designs by G.B. Carlone, however, Rákóczi's War of Independence (1703-1711) and the subsequent deprivations experienced by the city as a consequence of it supporting the wrong side, held up work on the church for 30 years with the exterior only being finished in 1743.

St.Bernard Church, Facade (©Neal1960)

Just four years after this work was concluded the Jesuit order was abolished by Emperor Joseph II and his Empress, Maria Theresa in their attempt to reduce the power of the Church.

St. Bernard`s was subsequently taken over by the Cistercian order which met a similar fate to that of its predecessor, being dissolved in 1787.

The church then experienced a run of bad luck that seemed to reflect the trials experienced by those that had been entrusted with its safekeeping: in 1800 it was badly damaged in a fire and during the reconstruction it burnt down again and, in 1835, 1841 and 1925 it was hit by not one, not two, but three earthquakes which also left their mark on the building.

Early Twentieth Century Postcard: St.Bernard`s Church and Order House

St. Bernard’s twin-towered frontage is not particularly awe-inspiring but is a competent piece of Baroque architecture. The four niches contain figures (from left to right) of Jesuit saints: St. Ignatius of Loyola, St Francois of Javier, St. Stanisław Kostka and St. Francis Regis.

Although the exterior of the church is nothing to write home about, the interior is something special.

The nave has three side chapels on either side and ends with a spectacular high altar, which is said to be the finest piece of Rococo sculpture in Hungary; it took just one year to complete (1769-1770) and was the work of Anton Krauss.

St.Bernard`s High Altar

Taking the Veneration of the Holy Sacrament, and the presence of Christ within it as its subject, the High Altar has at its centre the figure of Francis Borgia (see "Homage To A Bishop" below) flanked by two priests of the Old Testament, Melkizedik and Aron. Borgia is worshiping the crucified Christ observed by Moses and Abraham. There is also a clever illusion in which it seems that the high altar contains another altar within it, but a closer look reveals that it is just a painting.

The frescoes throughout the church were originally done by Johann Lucas Kracker but these were bar one, destroyed in the fire of 1800. The surviving fresco can be seen in the side chapel on the second left, an altar to St. Anne, and depicts an angel wearing a crown of stars.

In its original state the interior must have been a sight to behold as the altar and frescoes were intended to complement each other, creating a harmonious whole. As it is, the current frescoes, completed in 1925 by Francis Innocent, and the high altar paint a rather inconsistent picture.

Homage to a Bishop

The man at the centre of Krauss` high altar is St. Francis Borgia, yet the sculpture bears absolutely no resemblance to any other artistic depiction of the Saint. In fact, it is said that the face of Borgia on the high altar was modelled on the Bishop of Eger at the time, Bishop Esterházy.

While here visitors should look for the side chapel housing the Altar of the Holy Cross; at its base is an interesting depiction of Purgatory, showing the dead being bathed in cleansing fire while above them an angel bringing news of redemption hovers (Jozsef Hartman, 1734).

Today the two buildings are once again the property of the Cistercian Order.

They were returned after the change of regime in 1989 and the order now runs a school, Géza Gárdonyi Cistercian Grammar School, in the former order house.

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