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Matthias Church — Budapest’s Splashy, Gorgeous, Over-the-Top Church of Kings

The patterned roof tiles of Budapest's Matthias Church were added in the late nineteenth century by architect Frigyes Schulek. Photo by Barbara Newhall

The patterned roof tiles of Budapest’s Matthias Church were added in the late nineteenth century by architect Frigyes Schulek. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I’ve got lots of favorite churches. Most of them you’ve heard of —  St. Peter’s, of course. But also Chartres, Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame.

But there’s one more holy spot sitting at the top of my list. It’s the wild and wooly, no-holds-barred Matthias Church, in Budapest’s Buda Castle District. The church’s origins go back a millennium. But its best stuff wasn’t created until a little over a century ago.

Hungarian folk art motifs decorate the walls and ceilings of Matthias Church, Budapest. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Hungarian folk art motifs like these decorate nearly every inch of wall, ceiling and floor of the Matthias Church. Photo by Barbara Newhall

St. Stephen, Hungary’s beloved king, built a church on the spot in 1015. Over time, the church was destroyed, rebuilt, damaged and renovated. It took on a a series of architectural styles from Romanesque to Gothic Revival, with a brief failed attempt at Baroque.

Most of the current building was erected during the 13th century. It’s formally known

Detail of painted arched ceiling of Matthias Church, Budapest. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Spectacular ceiling detail — just one of many. Photo by Barbara Newhall

as the Parish Church of Our Lady Mary, but took on the name Matyas or Matthias Church in the 19th century after King Matthias. Two Hapsburg kings were crowned there, Franz Joseph in 1867 and Charles IV in 1916.

The basic design elements of the church are pretty much Gothic Predictable. What

Magyar folk art themes on pillars inside the Matthias Church, Budapest. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Magyar folk art themes on Gothic pillars. Photo by Barbara Newhall

makes this church one of a kind — and a place worth an afternoon or two of gawking and craning your neck — are the embellishments added in the late 19th century by the

Detail of a wall of Matthias Church interior, Budapest. Photo by Barbara Newhall

A wall and pillar. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Hungarian painters Károly Lotz and Bertalan Székely. Nothing escaped their aesthetic: nearly every wall, pillar and ceiling in the Matthias Church sports a design.

The motifs are supposedly based on Magyar folk themes, but I felt a lot of Art Nouveau during the jaw-dropping hours I spent in its pews two years ago, snapping

A dotted serpentine design on a wall in the Matthias Church, Budapest. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Dots and sunbursts. Photo by Barbara Newhall

photo after photo of their exuberant, life-affirming work.

Go see it. Better yet, go be there for an afternoon. Yes, there are lots of spectacular churches around the world. But the Matthias Church creates and fills a category of its own.

More beautiful arts and crafts at “The Ghost of 300 Million Drought Killed Trees Hovers Over a Lake in Texas.”  Also, “Sue Johnson’s Lamps and Shades — Art From a Little Shop in Berkeley.”

The interior of Budapest's Matthias Church. Photo by Barbara Newhall

A parish church — and a popular tourist destination. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Statue of Jesus in the Matthias Church, Budapest. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Statue of Jesus in the Matthias Church, Budapest. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Painting of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Matthias Church, Budapest. Photo by Barbara Newhall

The Holy Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Budapest's Matthias Church is more than 700 years old. Its romanesque and gothic revival architecture stands in contrast to its interior paintings by two late 19th century Hungarians. Photo by Barbara Newhall

The Matthias Church’s romanesque and gothic revival architecture stands in contrast to its interior paintings by two late 19th century Hungarians. Photo by Barbara Newhall

A round window, decorated with painted Magyar folk designs, Matthias Church, Budapest. Photo by Barbara Newhall

The animals worked into the design had an Art Nouveau feeling for me. Photo by Barbara Newhall

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Comments

  1. One more reason to pay a visit to Budapest. Well chosen, nice photographs!

  2. Beautiful photographs. Whenever I travel, I too seek out landmark churches in the area — they have some of the most beautiful art, always a lift for the soul!

    • Thanks, Cindy. Yes. When I travel I, too, find myself drawn to the local architecture. It’s art that one can experience viscerally — you can be inside it, lean up against it, be dwarfed by it. And, of course, churches, mosques, etc., often represent a local culture’s best efforts at architecture, so they grab my attention. And then there is the spiritual aspiration of churches — which inevitably catches me.

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