With a towering height of 315 feet (96 m), crowned with an imposing dome and decorated with elegant turrets, St Stephen’s Basilica is one of the tallest buildings in the city of Budapest and one of the most beautiful and most significant Catholic Churches in Hungary. Dedicated to Stephen, the first King and the founder of the Hungarian state, the basilica contains its most revered relic, the mummified right hand of the King, the patron of the church. Partly due to its historical heritage, and partly because of its architectural beauty, it is one of the main tourist attractions of the city.
In the 18th century, the site of the church was occupied by a theater, called Hetz Theatre, where animal fights were hosted. Later, János Zitterbarth, one of the wealthy citizens of the district, built a temporary church there. In the late 1810s, a local district Parish was formed by around a thousand people, and a campaign to raise funds commenced for the construction of a church. However, there was no progress until 14 August 1851, when construction works started based on the design of Jozsef Hild, a leading architect of Pest, who supervised the works until his death on 6 March 1867.
After that, for the continuation of supervision and construction of the church building, the Council of the City of Pest appointed Miklos Ybl, a reputed architect and designer of several important public buildings, including the famous Opera House in the capital city. However, the interior of the building, along with the artistic and decorative works, was completed after his death, under the guidance of Joszef Kauser.
It took more than half a century to complete the construction of St Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest in 1905. Much of the delay was due to the interruption during the construction when on 22 January 1868, the dome of the building collapsed due to the quality of the materials used and error in designing since it was a precariously balanced structure in which the distribution of the load was uneven on the pillars. The demolition of the poorly constructed parts and the removal of the debris continued until 1871, and construction resumed according to a new design by Miklos Ybl when the Hellenistic forms and classical style were replaced by Neo-Renaissance elements. Construction continued even after the death of Miklos Ybl in 1891 until the church was consecrated on 9 November 1905.
Built with an equilateral or Greek cross ground-plan, the building of the church, with a width of 180 feet (55 m), and a length of 287 feet (87.4 m), was originally supposed to be named after Saint Leopold which was subsequently replaced to become the St Stephen’s Basilica. It was bestowed the title of Basilica Minor in 1931 by Pope Pius XI.
Overlooking the homonymous square, the main façade of the Basilica is flanked by two tall bell towers. The southern tower houses the largest bell of Hungary, weighing over 9 tons. To the delight of the visitors, there is a spiral staircase with 364 steps to take them to the top to enjoy the 360 degrees view of the city, which can also be accessed by any one of the two elevators. For the maintenance of the aesthetic beauty of the building, both the elevators were installed in the cupola drum behind the statutes of the evangelists, and the two chimneys were converted into elevator shafts as they are located behind the main façade.