One of the symbols of the inner Ferencváros is the beautiful neo-Romanesque church designed by Miklós Ybl, the parish church of St. Francis of Assisi, better known as the church on Bakáts Square. For two centuries, the Catholic parishioners of Ferencváros have found a spiritual home here.
Its history dates back to 1822, when the Franciscans began their service in a temporary church built on the site of a donation by János Fellner, a potter, on the edge of today's Bakáts Square. The church was closed due to the damage caused by the flood of Pest in 1838. Then the church building committee that organized the reconstruction chose the neo-Romanesque plans of Miklós Ybl instead of the neo-Gothic idea of Imre Steindl. Ybl was by then a renowned architect of the Kingdom of Hungary, who later built the Opera House and St Stephen's Basilica, and was also a nearby resident of the district at the time.
Queen Elizabeth was asked to be the patron of the construction, and she supported the cause with a large sum of money and gifts. Thus, the church, built with the financial support of the state and the capital, was consecrated on 24 April 1879 in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi by Prince-Primate János Simor, whose coat of arms can be seen on the main altar built with his financial support.
The dedication was organised by the capital as a national celebration. It was timed to coincide with the 25th wedding anniversary of the royal couple, to reflect the important role of Queen Elisabeth in the atonement process of the Austro-Hungarian reconciliation, and to highlight the construction of the first modern church in united Budapest. Mihály Munkácsy and Ferenc Liszt, along with the royal couple celebrating their silver wedding anniversary, were among the visitors to the miracle of the works carried out by the great artists and masters of the time.
The church, damaged during the world wars, was restored by the community itself, but the Rákosi dictatorship stifled the parish's significant civic and charitable activities. In 1956, the square was the sad scene of serious fighting and executions, as well as a temporary cemetery. After the change of regime, however, community life was renewed, and the renovated parish building is a clear sign of this.
The neo-Romanesque building is located between the church of Fót and St Stephen's Basilica in the Ybl oeuvre. The monumental, basilica-like elements of the sanctuary contrast with the puritanical overall appearance of the church. The virtues of the church are the harmony and richness of detail that radiates through its stylistic purity - the furnishings were designed by Ybl himself, while for the workmanship the carpenter Endre Thék and the locksmith Gyula Jungfer are praised. The best painters of the time, Mór Than and Károly Lotz, painted the murals. In addition to the life story of Saint Francis, this is the first time in Hungary that a secular (non-saintly) historical figure is depicted on a church mural (The Last Communion of János Hunyadi). The series of national-themed murals and former glass windows is an expression of the cultural policy of the period.
The church's reliefs are also noteworthy: the four evangelists on the pulpit and the relief of Christ above the main gate were created by Leó Fessler, who came to Budapest from Vienna, while the angels and the statue of St Francis on the main gate were created by Gyula Szász.
Among the mostly 20th-century works of art in the church, the intimate sculpture of St. Anthony by Béni Ferenczy from 1950 in the northern side aisle is worthy of note.
Did you know?
An undercroft was also built beneath the building, in which holy masses were held from 1870. This 22-column catacomb is located under the transept and sanctuary of the church. It is still a special venue for various liturgical and artistic events.