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We planned on starting our first morning in Budapest by visiting the domed church we had seen in the dark the previous evening, St. István's Basilica. But first we needed to eat something, so we went down to the hotel's dining room to check out the breakfast that was included with the room. The breakfast turned out to be very good, and the dining room was gorgeous.
Ceiling in Breakfast Room
Ceiling in Breakfast Room
Bob and Juice Table
Bob and Juice Table

Well fortified, we emerged into the wilds of 21st Century Budapest.
Central Budapest
Central Budapest

In order to cross the street in front of the hotel safely, we headed over to the right, toward an open space called Deák Ferenc Tér. In Hungarian, a tér is a feature that might be called a plaza or a piazza or a platz or a place or a square in another European language. This one had a splendid old building on it which had seen better days, but which would benefit greatly from a bit of restoration. If the building had a name, we couldn't figure out what it was. A number of conventional businesses appeared to be located on the ground floor.
Building on Deák Ferenc Tér
Building on Deák Ferenc Tér

Heading back toward our hotel, but on the opposite side of the street, we came across a small park that turned out to be another square, this one called Erzsébet Tér, or Elisabeth Square. This square was named for the same 19th Century Empress Elisabeth as the Elisabeth Bridge across the Danube we'd seen the previous night, but lost its name for a time during the Soviet years. It was first renamed for Joseph Stalin and then for Friedrich Engels before recovering its original name in 1990. The path to St. István's Basilica lay through this park, which had some attractions of its own. For one, the Sziget Eye, the Ferris wheel we'd seen the night before, was located here. Evidently there is a new Sziget Eye on Erzsébet Tér now which looks somewhat different. We didn't ride, but I'm sure there were (and are) fine views of Budapest to be had.
Sziget Eye Belváros
Sziget Eye Belváros
Sziget Eye Belváros
Sziget Eye Belváros

Erzsébet Tér was also the home of the Danubius Fountain, a fountain symbolizing Hungary's rivers. The fountain was originally built in 1880 on a different square, but was relocated here after World War II.
Nella and Danubius Fountain
Nella and Danubius Fountain

A walk of a block northward took us to another square, this one in front of St. István's Basilica. The basilica is domed and neoclassical and is named for the first king of Hungary. If you read the introductory Budapest page, you might be a little confused, as the first king of Hungary was introduced there with a different name. But it makes more sense if you know that "István" is the Hungarian version of "Stephen", making St. István and Stephen I the same person. And the square in which we were standing is known as St. Stephen's Square, or … Szent István Tér!
Bob and St. István's Basilica
Bob and St. István's Basilica

St. István's Basilica was built between 1851 and 1905, so it isn't that old when compared to other European churches. It would have been completed earlier, but a partial collapse of the dome in 1868 (due to sloppy construction and substandard materials) made it necessary to knock everything down and start over. The building is exactly the same height (315 feet) as Hungary's nearby Parliament Building, which was completed a year earlier.

Many European churches are several centuries old, or were constructed on the site of a previous church that was several centuries old, but this is not the case with St. István's Basilica. The Basilica was built on the site of the former Hetz-Theater, a venue where animal fights were staged (there wasn't any TV in those days). Most of the Catholic tradition in Hungary in fact did not occur in Budapest (or Pest, as it would have been at that time), but instead in a city called Esztergom, located about 30 miles upstream. This is where Stephen I established the country's first cathedral, which survived a number of indignities over the ensuing centuries. When the Islamic Turks took over the country in 1543, they demolished the church, and the Archdiocese was not restored until 1820. A mother church for the country was built on the site of the old cathedral between 1822 and 1856. With the emergence of Budapest as a major city, the new St. István's Basilica was consecrated as the co-cathedral, with the Esztergom church, of the Esztergom-Budapest Archdiocese.

We made our way up the steps to the Basilica's front porch, noting some of its architectural features on the way. There was also a nice view of the square.

The Dome
The Dome
The Pediment
The Pediment

Szent István Tér
Szent István Tér

St. Stephen Above Doorway
St. Stephen Above Doorway
Center Door
Center Door

The entrance was not through the center door, but through a door to the right. We found the church to be beautifully decorated, with more of an open feel to it than most churches, due to its Greek cross floor plan.
Candles and Hallway
Candles and Hallway

Basilica Interior
Basilica Interior
Basilica Interior
Basilica Interior

Pulpit and Dome
Pulpit and Dome
Inside the Dome
Inside the Dome

Candelabra and Dome
Candelabra and Dome
Seating and Dome
Seating and Dome

St. Elisabeth of Hungary
St. Elisabeth of Hungary
Organ
Organ

Following the Catholic plan, the Basilica had several side chapels and altars. One of the altars celebrated St. Adalbert of Prague. According to legend, St. Adalbert officiated at both the baptism and the wedding of St. Stephen, though there is some doubt as to this contention.
St. Teresa of Lisieux
St. Teresa of Lisieux
Crucifixion Altar
Crucifixion Altar

Madonna of Hungarians Chapel
Madonna of Hungarians Chapel
Altar of St. Adalbert
Altar of St. Adalbert

Not in doubt is the fact that Stephen's father, Géza, arranged Stephen's marriage, in or around 995, to Gisela, a daughter of Henry II, Duke of Bavaria. They had an unknown number of children, but it is known that only one survived to adulthood, a boy named Emeric (Imre in Hungarian). Emeric was intended to take the throne on his father's death, but he was rendered unable to do so in 1031, when he was killed by a boar in a hunting accident. Things became very messy after Stephen died in 1038, with a succession of civil wars, uprisings and foreign invasions. Gisela left Hungary in 1045 and became an Abbess in Passau, Bavaria, where she died around 1060. Eventually things stabilized in Hungary, long enough for Pope Gregory VII to canonize both Stephen and Emeric in 1083 (Stephen for his devout beliefs and his work to abolish pagan practices in Hungary, and Emeric for similar piety and reported miraculous recoveries at his gravesite). An 18th Century attempt to have Gisela canonized was unsuccessful, but in 1975 she was beatified by Pope Paul VI, and is now known as "Blessed Gisela". Stephen, Gisela and Emeric all have stained glass windows devoted to them in the Basilica.
St. István Window
St. István Window
Blessed Gisela Window
"Blessed Gisela" Window

St. Emeric Window
St. Emeric Window

One cannot discuss St. István's Basilica without addressing the subject of Stephen's right hand. It seems that it was stolen by a cleric after his death, but was discovered, in miraculously unputrefied condition, in 1084. As Stephen was now a saint, the recovered hand was now a holy relic and a subject of veneration. Over the centuries the hand has travelled extensively, sometimes to be venerated in new places and other times to be protected from invading armies. In recent years it has gone from Empress Maria Theresa in 1771 to the Sisters of Loreto in Buda, to Buda Castle in 1900, to a cave near Salzburg, Austria in 1944, back to the Sisters of Loreto in 1945, and finally to St. István's Basilica in 1950, where it remains today. There is an annual procession in Budapest that celebrates the hand. When not being marched around the streets, it is kept on display in the Basilica. It is said to be miraculously preserved. I'm not sure what a thousand-year-old hand normally looks like (nor am I particularly interested in finding out), but even though it's been dolled up with some nice jewelry, it's not really something I'd want to display on my mantelpiece. It probably helps to be Catholic.
Reliquary of St. Stephen's Right Hand
Reliquary of St. Stephen's Right Hand
St. Stephen's Right Hand
St. Stephen's Right Hand

Baptismal Font near The Hand
Baptismal Font near The Hand

After having our encounter with The Hand, we did a little more exploring around the corridors of the Basilica before eventually exiting back into the Hungarian daylight.
Main Chapel
Main Chapel
Decorated Hallway
Decorated Hallway

Our next destination for the day was to be the Museum of Fine Arts, and we set to figuring out how to get there.