Matthias Church is located at the heart of Buda’s Castle District. Apart from being a church, it’s also home to the Ecclesiastical Art museum, beginning in the mediaeval crypt and leading up to the St Stephen Chapel. The gallery contains replicas of the Hungarian royal crown and coronation jewels, a number of relics and mediaeval stone carvings.
Dating to 1247, the edifice was used for coronations from the crowning of Charles I in 1309 and is today known as the Matthias Church, after King Matthias, who added side chapels and an oratory in 1470. It was the site of the King’s two weddings and played a significant role in the history of the Turkish occupation of Hungary.
During the century and a half of Turkish occupation, the vast majority of its ecclesiastical treasures were shipped to Pressburg (present day Bratislava) and following the capture of Buda in 1541, the church became the city’s main mosque.
The church was also a place of the so-called Mary wonder. In 1686 during the siege of Buda by the Holy League a wall of the church collapsed due to cannon fire. It turned out that an old votive Madonna statue was hidden behind the wall. As the sculpture of the Virgin Mary appeared before the praying Muslims, the morale of the garrison collapsed and the city fell on the same day.
The church was the scene of several coronations, including that of Charles IV in 1916 (the last Habsburg king).
The church was originally built in the Romanesque style in 1015. The current building, constructed in the Flamboyant Gothic style in the second half of the 14th century and extensively restored in the late 19th century, was the second-largest church of mediaeval Buda and the seventh-largest one in the Hungarian Kingdom in the Middle Ages.
Although following Turkish expulsion in 1686 an attempt was made to restore the church in the Baroque style, historical evidence shows that the work was largely unsatisfactory. It was not until the great architectural boom towards the end of the 19th century that the building regained much of its former splendour. The architect responsible for this modernisation, which is generally regarded as his chief work, was Frigyes Schulek.
The church was restored to its original 13th-century form, but a number of early original Gothic elements were uncovered. By also adding new motifs of his own, such as the diamond pattern roof tiles and gargoyles laden spire, Schulek ensured that the work, when finished, would be highly controversial.
In the course of planning the reconstruction, he did a thorough field survey of the Gothic church to expose the varying original elements of the building, in order to learn how it had been built, rebuilt and enlarged over time.
Originally built in the early French Gothic style, the church had been destroyed by fire in 1526, then reopened as a mosque in 1541. After the Ottoman period and its 1586 reconversion to a church, the Franciscans and, later, the Jesuits maintained the edifice.
Rather than choosing a particular historic period to interpret while conserving evidence of its earlier and later appearance, as is modern practice, Schulek practically constructed the church anew, without preserving the various historic interventions, and had nearly every stone replaced or re-carved. On the west façade and the spire, where he could find no documentary evidence to assist him, he detailed his own designs, to the point that the building as it stands today is almost entirely his creation.