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St Stephen’s Basilica of Budapest is one of the most beautiful and significant churches and touristic attractions of the country. This is partly due to its historical heritage, of being dedicated to the holy king St Stephen who was also the founder of the Hungarian state, and partly to the architectural and artistic value of the building itself. January 22, 1868 was an important date in the history of the Basilica. It was on this day that the cupola and the cupola drum constructed according to the designs of Hild collapsed due to defects in materials and craftmanship. The imbalance of the structure in turn gave rise to the collapse, after which works paused for more than a year, when the removal of the debris and the demolition of the poorly constructed parts commenced and continued until 1871. Miklós Ybl prepared new designs for continuing the construction works or revised the previous ones in terms of the structure and the appearance alike. From 1875, the Hellenistic forms and Classicist style were replaced by Neo-Renaissance elements applied by Ybl, and works continued, even after his death of 1891, according to his sketches and ideas until the long-last dedication of the church in 1905.
(Source: A Szent István Bazilika, Budapest 1989.)
 
The death of king St Stephen was followed by a turbulent period characterized by struggles for the throne. The chapter of Fehérvár feared that the embalmed and mummified corpse might be desecrated, therefore ordered its removal from the marble sarcophagus standing in the middle of the basilica where king Stephen was buried on August 15, 1038 and hid it in the tomb under the basilica. It was at this time that the right hand of the king, which remained intact and was believed to have miraculous power, was detached and taken to the treasury of the basilica.
Later on, a treasury ward called Merkur stole the holy relic and hid it on his estate in Bihar. When king St Ladislaus heard about the relic, he visited Merkur on his estate. He forgave the theft and founded an abbey at the place where the Holy Right was found in honour of our first king and in order to provide a worthy place for the holy relic. This is how the public reverence and celebration of the Holy Right started.
St Stephen’s BazilicaSt Stephen’s Bazilica
Pilgrims were travelling to the relic guarded in the Holy Right Abbey for centuries. The journey of the Holy Right started in the 15th century. First it was taken to Székesfehérvár, then during the Osman Turkish reign to Bosnia and later (at about 1590 A.D.) to the Dominican monks of Raguza, the city known today as Dubrovnik.
When Emperess Maria Theresa learnt of the relic’s location, she did her best to get it back. After lengthy diplomatic negotiations, it was finally extradited by the monks of Raguza, and on April 16, 1771 it could already be viewed by believers of Vienna. After that it was transported to Buda with great pomp and ceremony. Emperess Maria Theresa appointed the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary (called “Angolkisasszonyok” in Hungarian) to take care of the Holy Right and ordered a yearly public celebration on August 20, the day of St Stephen.
In the early 1800s, king Joseph II ordered that the Holy Right should be guarded by the male Order of Crusaders and from 1865, the Archdiocese of Esztergom was in charge of the safeguarding of the relic. During the early 1900s, it was taken to the Sigismund chapel in the Buda castle and remained there until 1944. The years between the two World Wars were a period in the history of the Holy Right rich in acknowledgements, with special regard to year 1938. In October, 1937, the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference accepted the program for the “double holy year”, meaning the plans for preparing for the 34th International Eucharistic Congress and the anniversary year of St Stephen. They proclaimed to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the death of our first apostolic king (the anniversary year of St Stephen) and decided to commemorate king St Stephen in a worthy manner on this very special festival of Christianity, by carrying the Holy Right around the country. The opening event of the series of festivals was organised on May 30, directly after the conclusion of the International Eucharistic Congress.
During World War II, the Holy Right and the coronation jewels were taken and hidden in a cave in Salzburg. It was returned to Hungary, right on time for the procession of August 20, 1945 by three members of the American Military Mission.
At the end of the ceremony, the Holy Right was taken back to the convent of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was guarded there until the dissolution of the order in 1950.
Then it was hidden in the safe of the parish of St Stephen’s Basilica, because in these years it was no more allowed to revere the right of St Stephen in public procession.
It remained there until August 20, 1987, when Dr. László Paskai, cardinal and archbishop of Esztergom dedicated the Holy Right chapel, which was established at the initiative of the late cardinal László Lékai. This is where the holy relic of our great king was placed and can be visited until this very day. Since 1989, the prayer procession has been organised every year on St. Stephen’s day.
 

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