January 27, 2002
King Stephen’s Grave
Saturday, yesterday, we were planning on going to Vienna once again, but the idea of spending five hours on the train and not spending any money was not that appealing. Instead, we stayed in Budapest and did grocery shopping. It is wonderful to do a full week’s worth of shopping, including fresh meats and vegetables and only spend less than $40.00.
We took the train today to the original capital of Hungary, Esztergom, which boasts the largest basilica in Hungary, still a sight for religious pilgrimages today. This was the birthplace of King Stephen, the first Royal House of Hungary. King Stephen was later canonized as a saint and his body remains in the basilica. It is an hour and a half ride to this small little town that is supposed to be so quaint. It may be, but not in the winter months.
The town was rather dreary, with most of the shops closed and the streets empty. The housing looked poor and depressing, void of any architecture they were connected box style houses with few windows and no outside décor to distinguish one from the other. Walking to the basilica, there were some beautifully crafted old historic buildings with signs in Hungarian, so we know as much about them now as we did before leaving Budapest. Well, one building we walked into and it turned out to be the town hall. Many people assume we are German, so they attempt to speak to us in German. Fortunately, we have been in German speaking countries enough that we are able to get the concept of what they are saying.
As much as I have had my fill of churches, cathedrals, and other religious institutions, I was bowled over by this basilica. The interior was magnificent and one of the shining stars of all that I have seen. The interior natural light was bright. The marble walls were grayish-blue, a color of a marble that I had never seen before and at first, I thought it had to be faux marble. I rubbed my hands on a number of veins in the marble until I was convinced that it was real. One chapel is entirely constructed of a rare red marble that is the color of ripe cranberries and is magnificent. I could sit in this building and stare for hours. It was the most inviting house of worship that I have been in in years. The original basilica was built in 1010, but was added on to in a Neoclassical style in 1856.
In the crypt, there are the bodies of Hungary’s archbishops. The crypt is like walking through ancient Rome with numerous columns supporting the roof. There are huge sculptures decorating graves that defy description, but my favorite was an angel that was at least fifteen feet high double the width that was draping a robe over a coffin. It was done in bronze and the pose was of a relaxed non-sexed beauty that happens to be flying over and draping this large cloth over the casket as it traveled. The love, tenderness, and admiration of the angel could be felt for the task it was providing. It was a tremendous work of art.
Many of the caskets were exposed and had multitudes of ribbons hanging from them with wording on them. We had no idea what these were or why they were there. Some caskets were identified by frescoes on the walls and they were almost perfectly intact from centuries ago.
The basilica sits on top of a hill, from which you can view the Danube where it bends. On a clear day, you are able to see the Low Tatras of Slovakia, but it was overcast and foggy this day, so we had to use our imaginations. We did yell, “Hello” to Mrytis and Randall, though. There are a couple of religious museums on the grounds, but we chose not to visit them.
After finding a café, we had coffee and a dessert. The selection was tremendous considering the size of the town and the lack of activity around, but we had difficulty in making a selection. By 4:00 pm, we were ready to hike back to the train and head home again. This is a place to go to in the spring or summer, since the parks would probably be lovely at those times. Walking back along the Danube, we observed dozens of swans playing in the river. Many must have been in their first year of life as they were mottled white with brown and some still had fuzzy necks. We nicknamed one Mr. Fuzzy Neck, which triggered an idea for a children’s picture book, in my mind.
The train there and back was more like a large tram rather than a train. Our timing was excellent. There was a train about to leave just as we arrived and there was not a place in sight for Ron to get tea, so we were off. It was second-class only and surprisingly crowded.
As soon as we returned home, we had to turn around and go out again. Our friend Dawn was just returning from Arizona this afternoon and we were meeting for dinner at a pizza parlor. Dawn will not eat Hungarian food. It was great to see her again, a familiar face who we have known for over three years. She had been in the States for over six weeks so we had lots to catch up on. She is a consultant with the Soros Foundation to work with teachers and school systems on including the Roma children into the mainstream schools, in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic.