Having taken a break from prodding my memory for most of the various other kinds of posts I like to feature here, letʼs return to the travelogue, to last year, 2011, to Monday, October 24, in Budapest. You will find it was still rainy…
Places of Worship (a Day or Two Late?)
Monday was our church-visit* day. I had vaguely considered a museum (and there are many of them, several tempting to me but one I knew would also inspire Janet — the National Art Museum, farther off than several history and a cultural and an agricultural, but particularly with the language barrier possible, the only serious choice) for a Sunday pastime “out of downtown,” but it was closed. As was the Great Synagogue, as I noted earlier. So we went on Monday, when it actually, definitely rained.
No mere mist on Monday — from before we arose, about 8:00, there was steady precipitation. No downpour but nothing to ignore. We both took umbrellas along (again, although I donʼt believe we opened either on Sunday) as we left the room to descend the stairs to the lobby and be on our way. And outside, in the noticeable precipitation, we hurried along Mérleg utca to turn left onto Október 6 utca and then right to follow Zríny utca to our initial destination.
The first stop was a place we had been at and by many times already (with several more to come, including two bypasses this Monday evening), Szent István Bazilika. This time we were going inside, so we climbed the big steps out front, forked over our coins to the priest at the doorway (where I really didnʼt pay sufficient attention to the carved portrayals of the Twelve Apostles on that portal) and went inside…
Dark and huge. What else can you expect in a cathedral? (Okay, basilica.) Big columns, domed glitter overhead, not many people, statues, niches, side chapels — lots of red, gold, blue. But mostly it just seemed hugely dark. The floor was interestingly ornate but also somehow not as finished-feeling as other churches we had visited elsewhere. We wandered to our right first, passing St. Gellért in statuary around to the main altar with a big white statue of St. István. We wended back down the nave and around to the left by the altar to enter the little set of rooms that led to our sighting of the fair-sized shrine for the forearm of St. István himself, with helpful information sheets (in several languages but mostly Hungarian) on the building and its restoration. We looked and departed, back into less rain outdoors.
We made our way next southwards along Bajcsy-Zsilnszky Út, Erzsébet tér and Károly Körút to the Synagogue, where we stood patiently in line (me desperately reading travel books I had brought along and the various signs for information on how much we were to pay and what we had to do to gain entrance). We had seen this place, of course, yesterday, its two great Moorish-domed steeples piercing the gray sky, appearing as imposing and dramatic as the books had suggested (and as churchlike, too — Steves quotes an early, sardonic observer decreeing it “the most beautiful Catholic synagogue in the world”).
It seemed, although the books indicated otherwise, that all visitors stood in line at the tour counter (a small shed built outside the great fence) but we distinguished ourselves from the tour group tourists by telling the guys inside that we wanted not to take the tour but just purchase admittance (cheapskates, us, and maybe we missed some information, but both Mr. Steves and Frommer seemed to have lots of information from which I could, and I did, read while inside, as I had at St. István). Then we went to a different line to pass security (quite reminiscent of TSA at airports, except we got to retain our shoes) and finally, presenting our tickets, pass inside.
Gloriosity of gold within. Huge, but unlike the basilica, bright (sufficiently so to permit photographs, so we have some here). We wandered around, dodging groups (and eavesdropping sometimes) to examine the gilded decor, making our way up front along the left side first (I think) and then back along the right (or maybe vice versa). This place was definitely big and splendiferous (largest synagogue in Europe, second in the world) — all gold, red, wood and wonderfulness. Very Oriental, too — the Moorish inspirations being very evident (although I felt more of that in one of the five we toured in Prague, which was even more gilded and ornate but of course not as large). After a while and many attempts at natural-lighting photos, we went to the door to the museum, leading into a lobby with a staircase and elevator.
Being us, we headed for the steps only to be stopped and signaled to the elevator by a woman in the coat-check/ticket area. So we entered and ascended several floors to come out into a display covering four or five rooms (and steps up to modern artistic interpretations of antisemitism on the floor above). We patiently examined the many items on display — siddurs, prayer shawls, cups, Torah cases and crowns… a massive plenitude (and also the exhibits one flight up), learning and reviewing about Jewish festivals, imagery and symbolism and daily life.
When we finally returned to ground level and passed outdoors (shielded by the porch) to look at the mass graves on the northern side of the synagogue, quietly grim, and then pass into the weather to visit the silvery Holocaust Memorial sculpture and garden, the rain had set in for real. By now it was past 11:30, and the morning damp had become the midday downpour.
With the definite wet, the day seemed palpably colder, too. I got us (even after the previous dayʼs mild disaster) onto a tram to head around to Oktagon, from which we wandered Liszt tér, noticing mostly restaurants and cafés…
However, I approach a thousand words, which is more than I intended for today, so the rest of Monday, October 24, will have to wait.
* Is there an appropriate word for “place of worship” that doesnʼt seem particularly Christian-centric?