The Reformed Church of Ócsa was built in the early 13th century. Although it was remodelled and renovated several times throughout centuries, it is the most undamaged representative of medieval Romanesque church architecture in Hungary. It is not only its amazing appearance but also its frescoes from the Árpád era that make this church extraordinary.
The date of building the massive, precisely designed and constructed church is uncertain, while the founder is also unknown. Supposedly, it was built in the early 13th century as it was first mentioned in a document from 1234. Ócsa and surroundings was a royal property at the time, so the founder may have been Andrew II.
The Premonstratensian (aka Norbertine) Order founded in 1120 in France soon arrived in Hungary too. The earliest territorial registry of Norbertine monasteries from 1235 mentions 20 communities for men and two for women in Hungary. The order tended to establish monasteries in towns or other frequented sites and their work often involved preaching and the exercising of pastoral ministry. Accordingly, the church dedicated to Virgin Mary served as parish for the area too.
The 3-aisle church has two mighty towers on the west side, however, interestingly, entrances are through the northern and southern aisles. The main sanctuary on the east side is adjoined by two lower side sanctuaries. The transept segmenting the northern and southern frontages is adjoined by a sacristy on both sides. The nave separated from the two side aisles by a row of piers has a total length of 36.5 metres.
History of the church
After the devastation during the Mongol Raid, Norbertine monks returned and the church was rebuilt in early Gothic style. The community of the monastery, similarly to other Norbertine abbeys, gradually reduced in headcount both due to reformation and the Turkish conquest.
The dilapidated church passed into the hands of the Reformed Church in 1560 and by the early 1600s the whole village had converted to Protestant religion. The church served as a mosque during Turkish rule and fortunately, it survived the occupation.
When Mongol troops set the roof on fire in 1664, it was not restored for lack of financial resources and most of the building remained exposed to weather for decades.
Cultural heritage saved
By the 1770s the catholic community of the village had revived and wished to build a new church and use stones of the ruined medieval building also. Fortunately, Count József Teleki had just bought a plot in Ócsa and made a point of saving the church. With his support and Empress Maria Theresa’s consent it was restored by the Reformed Church (1773-77).
Misfortune continued as a lightning strike, a fire and a collapse of the roof each caused serious damages to the building. Restoration works began more times in the late 19th/early 20th centuries and a new level was added to both towers too.
Restoration works in 1902 resulted in an unexpected discovery as remains of a 13th century fresco were found under the painting of the sanctuary. It depicts the apostles as well as Saint Nicolaus and Saint George. The northern wall of the chancel presents episodes of the Saint Ladislaus Legend, and the opposite side displays Judgement Day fractured.
A thorough archaeological exploration and restoration took place only in the late 20th century, when the church was closed for 8 years (1986-1994). A new roof structure was built, each of the carved stone elements were repaired, the fresco and the floor were restored. During the excavation the remains of the monastery were found. The separate building was probably used as a manse by the protestants and it was connected to the church by a surrounding wall.
During restoration works the church yard and more segments of the surrounding wall were explored, the surroundings of the church were landscaped and an inner park was established.
- Most of the building stones of the church were mined in Buda Hills and transported on the Danube. This was possible because the river was navigable here in the 13th century, and only later became a bog.
- The pillars in the church vary from Gothic to Romanesque style. One of the aisles was constructed in Gothic style, the other in Romanesque style. Due to a renovation in the 18th century, the gallery and the pulpit feature Baroque elements.
- The thorough and authentic restoration gained the Europa Nostra Award for the church in 1995.
- The series based on Ken Follet’s “Pillars of the earth” was filmed in Ócsa (2009-2010).
- One of the best-known monuments of the Norbertine Order is the church ruins of Zsámbék built around the same time as the one in Ócsa.