Approaching Lébény you can easily spot the massive twin-tower of this church from far and upon arrival its well-proportioned mass catches the eye. The church built in the Árpád era is one of the most beautiful and undamaged representative of Romanesque church architecture in Hungary.
No wonder that the church stands out from its environment because it used to be a part of a larger monastery complex as donation documents show from 1208 (by Andrew II). The earliest date that proves the existence of the church itself is 1206 carved on its wall outside.
The Benedictine abbey church dedicated to St James together with the monastery could provide shelter as a fortification against enemy raids – in most cases. Exceptions include a raid by Mongols in the 13th century and troops of Czech King Ottokar. Turkish troops set it on fire in 1529 and 1683. The monastery and the church were restored by Jesuits, however, when Jesuit communities were disbanded by Empress Maria Theresa in 1773, they were abandoned. The monastery was pulled down in 1830 and its stones were used to construct the fort of Komárom. Anyway, earlier, in 1563, the same almost happened to the church too, when the castellan of Győr ordered to use its stones to fortify the castle. Fortunately, this order was withdrawn. Finally, the church was restored as a parish church in 1862-65, which was the first heritage conservation project in the country.
After an adventurous and rugged past the church today awaits visitors fully restored. Before entering take your time to walk around the building to admire its well-proportioned mass, Romanesque windows, the round window on the westwork, the gargoyles and the ornate portal with vine and acanthus pattern. Ashlars of the walls are supposedly from the quarry of Fertőrákos or St. Margareten (Austria).
Entering the church an impressive interior welcomes visitors. The two side aisles are separated from the nave by a series of massive pillars, as typical of 3-aisle basilicas of the 11th century. As the central nave is higher than the aisles a row of windows called clerestory grants access to sunlight. Apart from the capitals, walls are moderately decorated, which is truly not a deficiency in this church.
The church was named after Saint James the Greater, who got executed by Herod Agrippa’s in 41-42 AD. He was the first martyr among the apostles. His remains were relocated from Jerusalem to Spain to save them from the Arabian conquest in the early 7th century. His tomb became a site of pilgrimage. The Hungarian section of the pilgrimage route stretching from Byzantium over Europe was supposedly set by Stephen I around 1018 and Lébény was also included then. Pilgrims are still welcome today and offered modest accommodation in a pilgrim house.