One tower or two? - The largest Orthodox church in Hungary was consecrated 220 years ago

Hungarian version of the article: Egy torony vagy kettő? – Hazánk legnagyobb ortodox templomát 220 éve szentelték fel

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August 15, 2021 at 7:30 PM

The tower of a church always has a special significance. It is an important part of the cityscape, it helps with orientation and of course a signal to the community as well. The tower (or towers) of the Greek Orthodox Church of Our Lady in Petőfi Square not only define the cityscape, but they are also signals in the history of the 220-year-old church.

The community of the Greeks of Pest decided in 1785 to build its own church. They probably had no idea at the time that they were facing long and hard work. Only getting permission to build an independent church took five years, in possession of which they could then buy the land on the banks of the Danube from the Piarists. 

Architect József Thallherr was commissioned to prepare the plans and the construction budget, and on the basis of the documents submitted by him, the Pest County Council authorized the construction of the church on 22 June 1790. However, it did not begin, as parish leaders discovered static errors in the plans. Thallherr's mandate was revoked and Joseph Jung was asked in 1791 to draw up new plans. The contract stipulated that the Pest church should be modelled on the Greek church in Vienna. And this particular Viennese church had one tower, and it still has one today.

The church of the Greek Church on the Aldunasor in the 1850s in the graphics of Ludwig Rohbock. The church was consecrated on 11 August 1801 (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)

Work began in 1791, but the Greeks soon changed their minds. It was decided that, contrary to the original plan, the church would be built with two towers instead of one. The amendment required new permits and new plans. Instead of the originally planned 3, the church was built in about ten years. Its consecration was held on 11 August 1801. This date was chosen because when the foundation stone was laid, it was promised that the church would be dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. In the year 1801, the feast of August 15 fell on a Saturday, so on the previous Sunday, the ceremony was performed by the Serbian Bishop of Buda, Dionisziosz Popovics, and the Bishop of Temesvár (now Timisoara).

The orthodox church on today's Petőfi Square in 1866 with the towers designed by József Jung (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)

A few decades later, more and more three- and four-storey houses were built in Pest, next to which the two-storey towers of the Greek Orthodox Church were almost dwarfed. Therefore, the Greek Church again decided to build. Miklós Ybl was asked to design ornate helmets for the towers of the church. During the construction, the facade of the church was also remodelled.

The church now has the new tower helmets designed by Miklós Ybl, photographed by György Klösz in the 1880s (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)

With its dimensions, architectural forms and richness, the renewed church was one of the ornaments of the Danube bank for decades, but it was severely damaged in the Second World War, and its southern tower collapsed. Although conservation and major renovation work was carried out on the church immediately after the war, then in the 1950s and 1970s, only the pedestal of the missing tower was rebuilt. 

The south tower of the church collapsed in the Second World War (Source: Fortepan / Budapest Capital Archives. Reference No.: HU_BFL_XV_19_c_11)

The tower itself was returned to the building in the second half of the 2000s, then the support structure of the tower helmet was completed in 2010, and nine years later the helmet itself. Thus, today the church once again draws attention to itself on the bank of the Danube in Pest with a stake tower and tower helmets made according to the plans of Miklós Ybl.

 The Greek Orthodox Church will receive the southern tower in 2010, and then the tower helmet in 2019 (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky /

Cover photo: The Greek Orthodox Church of Our Lady in Petőfi Square with two towers and a tower helmet (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky /

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