The part of the city where the St. Stephen’s cathedral is standing has only begun to be built upon in the 18th century. It was planned with an orderly street structure, and even in the first plans they left a big space for the cathedral.
In 1845 József Hidl (1789 – 1867), the greatest architect of Pest’s classicism, created the first plans for the church, commissioned by the city of Pest. He imagined a building with a central layout, with towers and a dome, in which the vestry would be in the back of the semi-circular shrine and the chapel. The construction begun in 1851, based on somewhat modified plans. In 1861, the place of the vestry was consecrated and used as a temporary temple, until the finishing of the cathedral.
After the death of József Hidl, the greatest architect of historicism in Budapest, Miklós Ybl (1814 – 1891) continued with the construction. In 1868 January 22, not long after the death of Hild, when the construction only got to the ledge of the dome, a part of the church fell in. The fell-in was based on several different causes. Presumably the quality of the building material was not good enough; the workers completed the masonry-work at the dome’s supporting spandrel erroneously; and also Hild wanted to build a higher dome than in the original plans. The reason behind this was that the heights of the buildings around the cathedral were growing very fast.
After the fell-in, the construction paused for long years. In 1874 Miklós Ybl could devise the new plans, and in 1875, they begun the reconstruction. Ybl gradually reworked the classicist plans of Hild, and created a monumental neoreneissance architecture. He was considering the shape of the dome for a long time, and the final solution only came to him around 1885. The dome was finished in 1889. When Miklós Ybl died in 1891, he left a complete work behind, the outer facade, the towers, the dome and the inner space were all finished.
The designer and overseer of the temple’s ornamental works was József Kauser (1848 – 1919). The adornment of the inner space was created during his time, and the iconografical program of provost priest Lénárd Lollok took place in this time also. In 1898, the city got permission to devote the cathedral instead of the original patron saint, Austrian Saint Lipót, to Saint Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian state. The mosaics of the church, that can be seen in the dome, the spandrel, the girth and the shrine, are showing motifs taken from the Catholic Church’s iconography, while the statues in the shrine and at the pillars of the dome are commemorating the saints of the Hungarian Catholic Church, like Saint Stephen, Saint Ladislaus, Saint Elizabeth of House Árpád. In this cathedral, the christianism of the west admits the Hungarian church, with its king-saints, history, and country devoted to the celestials as an oyster admits a pearl.
After the consecration of the cathedral the high mass was celebrated by the archbishop of Kalocsa, Gyula Várossy, in 1905. November 19. The first mass of the parish was celebrated by provost priest Lénárd Lollok in 1905. November 20.
The basilica has six bells: one in the south tower and five in the north tower.
- Great St. Stephan bell: The largest bell in Hungary. Located in the south tower, it weighs 9250 kg and has a diameter of 240 cm. It was made by the Perner bell foundry in Passau, Germany in 1990.
- Blessed Virgin Mary bell: The oldest bell in the church, founded by Ferenc Walser in 1863 in [Pest]. It weighs 3100 kg and has a diameter of 178,5 cm.
- St. Henry II. bell: It weighs 2150 kg and has a diameter of 150 cm. Founded in Passau in 1993.
- Blessed Gizella bell: It weighs 1250 kg and has a diameter of 117,8 cm. Founded in Passau in 1993.
- Saint Emeric bell: It weighs 750 kg. Founded in Passau in 1993.
- Saint Erzsébet (Elizabeth) from the House of Árpád bell: It weighs 500 kg. Founded in Passau in 1993.
The great bell was consecrated on 20 August 1990, on the day of St. Stephan. The four smaller bells were consecrated three years later on the same day.