Sunday, 8 November 2009

As it was Sunday, we thought we'd go to church...

Actually, that's not strictly true. I wanted to go to St Stefan's basilica to photograph his preserved, wizened zombie hand. The basilica is Budapest's version of St Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, i.e., big and important. We assumed that there probably wouldn't be services. We were wrong.

It was raining when we set out at about 10.30 this morning. I would have preferred something a bit more exotic weather-wise. I mean, mid-November, just off the East European Hungarian Plain, one can surely expect snow - rain we can do ourselves at home, nae bother. But no, rain it has to be. Ho hum. Fortunately the basilica is only about 5 minutes walk from where we're staying, and on the way there we met this delightful chap:

The square in front of the basilica was wet and more or less deserted, so we went in, past the ornate door overlooked by St Stefan himself:

And straight into a full-blown Catholic mass! It was the whole enchilada - priests in fancy dress, swinging their incense and ringing their little bells. Every fibre of my being just wanted to yell "TED!"

It was, actually, (and part of me hates to say this, being a virulent atheist), terribly impressive. The basilica is gorgeous inside with lights meant to look like candles. There's gilding everywhere and, for this show, a full choir with organ singing their hearts out. The acoustics were just fabulous.

(I apologise that this second video is sideways but Blogger won't let me rotate it round, however you can still appreciate the wonderful music if you click the play button)

I found it all completely fascinating on the level of some sort of anthropological fieldtrip. You see, I've never been to any Catholic service anywhere, so this was all new - the smell and smoke of the incense, the tinkling of the little bells (what was that for?), the liturgy in Latin - I could see how appealing and mysterious it all was.

We pottered around silently for a bit, listening to the lovely music and marvelling at how alien it all was and slowly heading towards where they keep St Stefan's Zombie Hand only to find the room closed for the duration of the service! Feck. I will return, though. (God, I'd better be able to take a decent picture of it, now that I've embiggened it up so much....)

After leaving the basilica, we decided, as we were obviously in a holy frame of mind, that it would be apposite to head on over to the Grand Synagogue and check that out. Mum visited it last time she came over to Budapest and recommended it, and seeing as how I've never been in a synagogue either, I might as well do another thing for the first time.

During WWII, the Grand Synagogue on Dohany Street marked the border of the Budapest ghetto instigated by the Nazis. It's the third largest synagogue in Europe. It was bombed to buggery during the war and it took until 1991 (after the fall of communism) for renovations to begin, assisted by large donations from Estee Lauder (the cosmetics lady) and Tony Curtis (the actor), both of whom were Hungarian Jewish refugees.

The outside is very striking as it's built in a Moorish style - it's covered in terracotta tiles.

As I said, I've never been inside a synagogue so wasn't sure what to expect, so I was quite surprised at how church-like it was.

And I was really quite taken by the rather bizarre white globular chandeliery-things:

Round the back of the Synagogue, in a courtyard, is the very small Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park. He was the Swedish diplomat who managed to wrench tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the murderous grasp of the Third Reich and is rightly honoured around the world.

Most impressively there is a beautiful and striking holocaust memorial in the shape of a weeping willow made from stainless steel. Each of the leaves of the tree have engraved upon it the name of one of the victims of the holocaust and eventually the tree will be completely covered.

This particular memorial was built in 1989 but there is also another, older, memorial on the other side of the courtyard which lists names of people and has little niches for visitors to place pebbles in to indicate that the memorial had been visited (a Jewish tradition):

That's it for today, valiant reader. Tomorrow remind me to tell you of the fag-smoking statue and the 'Lock of Happiness'.....


Adrienne Goodenough said...

I completely missed the synagogue - shame because we ran out of things to do on our last day!!! Nice to see it viocariously through your eyes/blog...

elizabethm said...

We had a week in Budapest a couple of years ago and went to a Mozart concert in St Stephens, just fabulous.
There is a building which has been converted into a hotel, by the river, at the end of a bridge, can't remember the name but to do with a merchant company. You can go in and have tea and it is really worth going inside. Sorry not to give you any more clues!

Mrs Jones said...

Hi elizabethm - it's the Gresham Palace Hotel, a fabulous Art Nouveau building. I took some pics of the outside yesterday and may go inside to take pics as well. There's a big classical concert in St Stefan's tomorrow night which I'm tempted to go to.