Praying inside Gellért Hill – the Cave Church of Budapest.

I was standing in front of the Cave Church, located inside Gellért Hill. A beautiful ,but cold evening was slowly turning into night. The intense green colour of Liberty Bridge was gradually dissolving, letting the darker shadows take over. The street lamps were gently polishing sharp corners of the world. The steam coming out of Gellért Baths borrowed some colour from the street lamps and made me regret leaving the towel and swimming suite in the hotel. Sinking into natural hot springs located outside on the cold January evening would be a perfect finish to our first evening in Budapest. Instead we have visited an unusual church, located inside the cave, formed by the thermal springs.

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You will not find any high ceilings here, neither lavish décor so often seen in churches. The bare walls of Saint Ivan’s Cave are left alone, undisturbed, displaying the harmony of nature. The cave will swallow you instantly, putting you through its guts and making you bend your head; regardless if you are a believer or not. It will cut you out of the outside world, guarding its silence with thick walls; letting you forget not only about the noisy streets of Budapest, but about anything else you wish to forgot.

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The history of the church is a sad and a tragic one. In 1926, a group of Pauline monks came here on their way back from a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. They saw the rock, they saw the cave and they saw God. They stayed and built a church on the rock.  At the beginning, the congregation was sitting outside the rock and the altar was located at the entrance to the cave. But then the church spread inside. The monastery was built at the same time. Like many other places in Budapest, during the Second World War the church was serving as a hospital and asylum. When the war ended, the monks were arrested and their superior, Father Ferenc Vezér, was executed by the new Communist regime. Later on, the church was completely sealed with a thick concrete wall… Luckily for us, and many others visiting Budapest, the church was reopened in 1991, with services held here three times a day.

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You will see many small rooms inside the cave. One of them is dedicated to Our Lady of Częstochowa. As a Pole, I am aware of the rich history between Poland and Hungary, as both nations went through terrible times during the Communism reign.  The Polish monks settled in the monastery in 1934. They brought a copy of the “Black Madonna”, a famous paintings of Our Lady of Częstochowa from Jasna Gora; in front of which Polish soldiers and refugees were praying during WWII. In 1951, the monastery and the church were closed and every single painting, including the “Black Madonna”, and every single altar, were destroyed.  On the 15 May, 1994, the celebratory opening of the rock chapel in the cave church took place. Every year since then, on the 26 August, the Holy Day of Our Lady of Częstochowa, a Polish priest performs mass in the Polish language for the Polish community living in Budapest.

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When we left the church, the evening outside settled into the night. The lights on the Liberty Bridge were more visible now and the steam from the Gellért Baths turned into a thick fog. We crossed the bridge and found ourselves on the other side, looking behind at the Church Cave inside Gellért Hill slowly dissolving into the night. Only the huge cross at the top of the rock was still fighting to stay more visible for longer.

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Practicalities:

The Cave Church is located on the Buda side of the town, near the Liberty Bridge, across from the Gellért Baths. Take streetcars 18, 19, 47 or 49 to Szent Gellért tér.

Opening hours: 9.30am-7.30pm Mon-Sat

Ticket prices: adult/child 500/400Ft

Gellért Hill Cave

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