Esztergom Basilica

The Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and St Adalbert is an ecclesiastic basilica in Esztergom, Hungary, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Esztergom-Budapest, and the seat of the Catholic Church in Hungary. It is dedicated to the Saint Mary of the Assumption and Saint Adalbert.

It is the tallest building in Hungary and the 18th biggest church in the world. Its inner area is 5,600 m². It is 118 m long and 49 m wide. It has a reverberation time of more than 9 seconds. Its dome, forming a semi-sphere, is situated in the middle, and it has 12 windows. It is 71.5 m high inside, with a diameter of 33.5 metres, and is 100 m high from outside, counted from the crypt.

The altarpiece (13.5 × 6.6 metres, depicting the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by Michelangelo Grigoletti) is the largest painting in the world painted on a single piece of canvas.

The basilica is also known for Bakócz Chapel (named after Tamás Bakócz), built by Italian masters between 1506–1507 out of red marble of Süttő, its walls adorned with Tuscan Renaissance motifs. It is the most precious remaining example of Renaissance art in Hungary.

The huge crypt, built in Old Egyptian style in 1831, is today the resting place of late archbishops, among others, József Mindszenty.


The building of the present church took place on the foundation of several earlier churches. The first was built by Stephen I of Hungary between 1001–1010 (as the original Saint Adalbert church), the first cathedral in Hungary, which was burned down at the end of XII century. It was rebuilt, and even survived the Mongol invasion of Hungary. However, in 1304, Wenceslaus III, a probable candidate for the Hungarian throne, sacked the castle and the church. It was repaired in the following years. The archbishops of the XIV and XV century ornated the church more, made some altering and a huge library was also added, the second most significant one in the country. It was ruined again under Turkish rule, in 1543. In 1820, the Archdiocese was restored and archbishop Sándor Rudnay decided to restore Esztergom's status as mother church of the country. The church maintains the relics of Catholic martyr and saint Marko Krizin.

The architect was Pál Kühnel and the lead contractor was János Packh. The foundation-stone was laid and work began in 1822. The Bakócz chapel was carefully disassembled (into about 1,600 pieces) and was moved 20 metres away from its original location and attached to the new basilica. In 1838 Packh was murdered, so József Hild was placed in charge of construction. He completed it in Classicistic style. Under the next archbishop, János Scitovszky, the upper church was completed and dedicated on August 31, 1856. The 1856 consecration ceremonies featured the premiere of the Missa solennis zur Einweihung der Basilika in Gran (Gran Mass), composed and conducted by Franz Liszt, and featuring the organist Alexander Winterberger. The final completion of the cathedral took place twelve years later in 1869.

The organ

The renovation and enlargement of the organ started in the 1980s, after extensive preparations, and it is currently in progress. It is supervised by István Baróti, the basilica's organist and choirmaster since 1975. As of 2008, the project is still not fully funded. The organ has five manuals and by 2006 had 85 stops working out of the planned 146. The organ contains the largest organ pipes in Hungary, 10 m, about 35 feet (11 m) long. The smallest pipe is 7 mm, ¼ inch (without pipe foot). When complete, it will be the third largest organ in Europe, surpassing all organs in Hungary in both volume and variety of stops.

At the time of the construction in 1856, the organ was the largest in Hungary with 49 stops, 3,530 pipes and 3 manuals. The present organ preserves several stops from the instrument Liszt played.


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