The Cave Church on Gellért Hill played an important role in more historic and religious events. The church was built for the Pauline Order and their most important relic, a bone fragment of St. Paul is kept here. At the entrance a sculpture of King St. Stephen is displayed.
The history of Cave Church on the southern slope of Gellért Hill dates back nearly a hundred years. The church of the Pauline Order has preserved important relics since monks returned home in the mid-20th century.
Our Grand Lady of Hungarians Cave Church was established in the St Ivan’s cave. According to some historic reports it was named after St Iván who lived there as a hermit and cured people with thermal water at the bottom of the hill. The establishment of the church was inspired by the Cave of Lourdes (the Grotto of Massabielle) where a 14-year-old girl sighted multiple apparitions of Virgin Mary. After returning from a visit there in the 1920s a group of pilgrims proposed the idea to construct a similar sanctuary.
The church was built by Károly Weichinger by the plans of dr. Kálmán Lux Kálmán. At the time the church occupied only the mouth of the cave for the sanctuary and the central nave was outdoors on the rock shelf. Today the church is divided into two parts: the upper part in the natural cave and the lower part in a set of manmade caves. Hot springs under the hill maintain a standard temperature of around 20 °C (68 °F) all year long.
Although the idea was raised in 1924 the construction works finished only in 1931. Extension began soon and a Neo-Romanesque monastery was added in 1934 as well as an illuminated wooden cross was erected above the entrance in 1936.
The church was built for the Pauline Order, the only order founded in Hungary. Together with many other monastic orders it was dissolved in 1786 by Austro-Hungarian emperor Joseph II. Only two monasteries remained, both in Poland. Nearly after 150 years of exile the Bishop of Kalocsa travelled to Częstochowa in 1934 and returned with Pauline monks who took shelter there. As a contemporary local magazine reported on the comeback of Pauline monks “the return of the most Hungarian monastic order is not only a reason to rejoice for every true patriot but a symbol also, just like the Cave Church under their supervision, hardly matched in firmness among houses of God”
During WWII several Polish refugees fled to Hungary and they frequently visited the Cave Church. Cardinal József Mindszenty made a speech there with thousands of pilgrims listening.
In the 1950s the communist regime eliminated monastic orders in Hungary. In 1951, monks of the Cave Church were expelled and the cross above the entrance was toppled. Nearly 10 years later a 2.5 meters thick concrete wall was built to block the entrance. Until the political changes in 1989 the church functioned as a karst observatory and the monastery was used as a dormitory of State Ballet Institute.
The Cave Church was sealed up for 40 years, until 1990 when the Pauline Order repossessed and reopened it. The concrete wall blocking the entrance was pulled down in 1992 leaving a piece there to commemorate visitors the decades of communist dictatorship. A new cross was erected in 2001 the same day when it was toppled 50 years earlier. The same year Pál Kő’s sculpture of King St Stephen was sanctified. The sculpture displays the founder of the Hungarian state standing by his horse and holding a model of a Romanesque church.
At the entrance the metal grid holds the herald of Pauline Order. Entering the former St Ivan cave we can see the sculptures of Our Lady of Lourdes and Blessed Eusebius, founder of Pauline Order. Left of the latter one a relief of Cardinal József Mindszenty was placed. A tunnel-like passage connects the cave with a manmade hall where masses are held.
A special feature of the sculpture of the Virgin Mary with the Holy Crown of Hungary is that Baby Jesus is not in her arms but standing by her and holding out the regal orb to his mother. This may refer to King St. Stephen fulfilling God’s wish by offering the Holy Crown and the whole nation under the patronage of the Blessed Mother. The sculpture of St Stephen, the first Hungarian king was placed next to.
The sculpture of St Paul near the sculpture of Mary is represented with his usual attributes: a lion and a raven holding a piece of bread in its beak. Farther on we reach the Polish chapel where refugees looked forward to the end of the war. On the barrier of the chapel the heralds of the two nations are displayed with the Pauline herald linking them in the middle. The chapel has a replica of the famous Black Madonna of Częstochowa as well as the symbol of the Polish royal dynasty, the Jagiellonian Eagle. The sculpture of Polish Queen St Hedwig is also there.
The Polish chapel adjoins the central nave with the high altar sanctified by papal nuncio Angelo Acerbi in 1990. The altar was designed by industrial designer Győző Sikota and was made in the Zsolnay Factory of Pécs. The relief on the front displays the early Christian fish symbol with the single-headed three wish representing the Holy Trinity. The basswood cross with the crucified Jesus behind the altar was made by woodcarver István Szerváciusz. The original Limpias style cross perished in 1951.
Near the altar a relief by ceramist Mária Majzik shows the figure of St Gellért, who is depicted there not as a bishop but a prying hermit. Above the tabernacle the most important relic of the Pauline Order is placed: St. Paul’s bone fragment.
The Cave Church represents a unique mixture of historic, national, cultural, religious and natural heritage and values, making it well worth visiting. Open to public depending on holy mass schedule.