The Matthias Church, formerly known as the Buda Castle Church of Our Lady is the main Hungarian coronation cathedral. A number of kings were crowned in this historical building located in the Holy Trinity square of Buda Castle, including King Charles Robert, Sigismund of Luxemburg, Franz Joseph and King Charles IV.
King Matthias held both his wedding ceremonies at the church, which is also the resting place of King Bela III and his wife Agnes of Antioch.
According to ecclesiastic tradition, the church was established by King Saint Stephen in 1015, however there are no records to prove this fact (The related tradition, which was generally accepted until the 20th century, was public belief in the Middle Ages. After the period of Turkish rule, the church was known as the Church of Saint Steven, and the 900th anniversary of its foundation was celebrated in 1915. Although researchers now admit that there had been a village on the Castle Hill before the Mongolian invasion, we now have no material evidence for the existence of the Buda Castle Church of Mary before 1247). Nevertheless, we know for sure that the construction of the original gothic church began under the reign of King Bela IV following the Mongolian invasion of the country.
The towered, three aisle basilica was designed by the french master Villard de Honnecourt, based on the layout of the Lyon cathedral (At the beginning of the construction works Lyon was the seat of the Pope). However, the group of craftsmen who construction included a number of elements characteristic of the northern France (and shapes typical of Burgundy), and indeed, German style of church construction, thus making it the earliest and most complete classic gothic structure in the country. Later, under the reign of King Louis the Great (1342-82), the church was changed into a bright, airy, halled church. The church was reconstructed in high Gothic style, characteristic for the Anjou age. The reconstruction began with the formation of the southwest “Mary” gate, around 1370, to resemble the main entrance of the St Lawrence Church in Nürnberg. At the same time, the vaults of the side aisles were raised, and the building was transformed from its earlier cathedral style into a hall church. The carved portraits of King Louis the Great and Queen Elisabeth were preserved from this age, on the southern wall of the southern side aisle.
The most magnificent part of this historical monument is the southern Mary gate dating from 1370, the reliefs of which portray the life of the Virgin Mary.
In the 15th century, the building reached its peak under the reign of Matthias Corvinus and the fell into ruining during the Ottoman occupation. The structure was first torched (1541) and then used as a mosque. The building was reconstructed in a baroque style once these conquerors were chased away from the country. The church received its current, neo-gothic form during its restoration at the end of the 19th century. The works were led by Frigyes Schulek, who changed all the stones in the building. He modified the ground plans as well as the facade, tearing down the vaults and the walls of the church at several points in order to reconstruct the original architectural layout.
The church’s famous, 80 metre-high, southern or Matthias Corvinus tower originally collapsed in 1384. King Matthias raised an octagonal level on top of its remaining square-shaped lower section, decorated with ledges and partitioned with windows, on top of which Frigyes Schulek realised a turreted roof structure. However, the northern Bela tower wasn’t fully developed. The roof of the structure is covered with colourful majolica tiles made in the Zsolnay factory Pecs. The church’s secession internal decoration and amazing frescoes were painted by Schulek as well as Karoly Lotz, Bertalan Szekely and Mihaly Zichy.
The church was also the location of the “Mary-wonder.” In 1686 during the siege of Buda by the Holy League a wall of the church collapsed due to cannon fire. It turned out that an old votive Madonna statue was hidden behind the wall. As the sculpture of the Virgin Mary appeared before the praying Muslims, the morale of the garrison collapsed and the city fell on the same day.
During World War II the church was badly damaged. Matthias Church was used as a camp by the Germans and Soviets in 1944-1945 during the Soviet occupation of Hungary. The church was largely renovated between 1950-1970 with funding from the Hungarian government. The bell tower was restored, along with renovation of interior paints and frescos.The five-manual organ, which had been destroyed during the war, was updated and sanctified in 1984. The church’s largest bell weighs over 3,200 kilograms. Its sound familiar to all Hungarians, since it’s broadcast by Hungarian Television at noon.
To be continued…