On Thursday we had the chance to visit the magnificent Matthias Church, a source of inspiration for the people of Budapest for many centuries.
It was also the venue for our first performance on this Central European Tour by the choir.
Officially named the Church of Our Lady, this famous landmark in Budapest’s Castle District is best known as Matthias Church after the much-loved 15th-century Renaissance king who contributed the towers and was married here.
The southern high tower (60 m high) is called Matthias bell tower and bears the Hunyadi coat of arms a raven holding a golden ring in its beak,
Matthias was a much-revered ruler of the era and was one of the greatest kings of Hungary.
He was very fond of the arts and sciences and invited famous artists from abroad to help establish Renaissance enlightenment in Hungary.
His royal court was famous even in Western Europe and visitors often praised the magnificence of his royal palace.
It towers over modern-day Budapest.
The first church on the site was founded by Saint Stephen, King of Hungary in 1015. This building was destroyed in 1241 by the Mongols; the current building was constructed in the latter half of the 13th century.
Originally named after the Virgin Mary, taking names such as “The Church of Mary” and “The Church of Our Lady,” Matthias Church was named after King Matthias in the 19th Century.
Following the capture of Buda in 1541 by the Ottoman Empire, the church became the city’s main mosque.
Ornate frescoes that previously adorned the walls of the building were whitewashed and interior furnishings stripped out.
Yet this in turn led to the church becoming the site of the “Mary-wonder.”
When Budapest was under seige from the Turks, locals plastered over the niche that contained the statue.
The Ottomans used the church as their primary mosque during the occupation, but never noticed the statue.
More than a century later, in 1686, an explosion of gunpowder at the castle crumbled the wall around the statue, revealing the Virgin’s shining face.
After the expulsion of the Turks in 1686 an attempt was made to restore the church in the Baroque style but historical evidence shows that the work was largely unsatisfactory.
It was not until the great architectural boom towards the end of the 19th century that the building regained much of its former splendour.
The church was restored to its original 13th-century plan, but a number of early original Gothic elements were uncovered.
By adding new motifs such as the diamond pattern roof tiles and gargoyles laden spire, the architect Schulek ensured that the work, when finished, would be highly controversial.
During World War II the church was badly damaged. It was used as a camp by the Germans and Soviets in 1944–45 during the Soviet occupation of Hungary.
The church was largely renovated between 1950 and 1970 with the organ updated and sanctified in 1984.
It is home to the Ecclesiastical Art Museum, which begins in the medieval crypt and leads up to the St. Stephen Chapel.
The gallery contains a number of sacred relics and medieval stone carvings, along with replicas of the Hungarian royal crown and coronation jewels.
So that was our introduction to “The People’s Church.”