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.
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
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
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
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
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.”