This page is unusual in that the Augustinian-built church it details still exists, but has not been administered by the Order of St Augustine for about 200 years. Hungary was most likely one of the "founding nations" of the Order of Saint Augustine in the year 1256. It is believed by many historians that the Augustinian Province of Hungary existed at the time of the General Chapter at Siena in 1295, or else certainly soon after 1308. Whichever the case, Hungary had six Augustinian houses by the year 1300.
The date of the Augustinian foundation at Buda is uncertain, yet it had enjoyed a long history before its friars were evicted and its buildings destroyed by the invading Turks in 1541. No drawings are available of this first Augustinian church on the Order’s first site in Buda. As is explained hereunder, this web page deals with the Order’s second and third churches, both of which were built successively on the Order’s second site in Buda.
The first Augustinian monastery to be established in the Hungarian region after the Turks departed was the one in Léka, which now lies in Austria. The Augustinians there were instrumental in winning the town back to Catholicism after it had become almost completely Lutheran. The monastery was established in Léka in 1655. The Augustinians did not find it easy to arrange the return to Buda after an absence of 161 years. Franz Joseph I (ruling from 26th July 1678 to 17th April 1711), Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia, King of Hungary, King of the Romans protested that there were already an excessive number of parishes in his kingdom.
He particularly objected to the increased presence of contemplative orders, being of the stated opinion that there were too many "unproductive" religious orders in the empire. The storm-clouds of the forthcoming so-called era of Enlightenment were already appearing on the horizon. Furthermore, the civic authorities in Buda argued that there were enough religious orders in Buda. It was the high standing of the Order, and the support of influential patrons, that finally won the day for the Augustinians. They had to guarantee, however, that they would not be a financial burden on the populace by begging for money, etc.
The Augustinian friars in 1700 returned to Buda to this different location (see the woodcut of 1740, reproduced hereunder) that most probably was in the same general vicinity as the earlier Augustinian property there. A simple church was soon constructed, including a single wooden steeple, and in use by 1707. It was only on 24th October 1723 that their St Stephen's Church was given the right to operate as a parish. This right was granted for a period of ten years only. It was renewed again in 1733, and then became a permanent right in 1743. With the appointment of a Prior in 1734, the monastery at Buda became an Augustinian community in a full sense at that time.
The Augustinians had a Jesuit parish on one side (the Vizivárosi) and a diocesan one on the other (Újlaky). The Jesuits were more than happy to work alongside the Augustinians, especially since the Augustinians cared chiefly for the needs of the German-speaking populace in their section of Buda. Information about the Augustinian parish church and monastery at Buda, Hungary in the eighteenth century was recorded in the books by the reputable church historians, Farbavy and Fallenbach, and by the archives – now variously in Franciscan and government possession – at Budapest.
Picture (above): This is a drawing of the Augustinian property at Buda in 1741. The buildings in the 1741 etching are as follows: the "gazdagsági épület" (the work/produce building) is on the far right; next to it leftwards is the temporary house of the Augustinian friars, which at this stage was single-storied; further left is the church of 1700-1752 with its wooden steeple (superseded by the present church, begun in 1752); on the far left is the new Augustinian convent house that in 1740 was still under construction. This friars' temporary convent was previously the house of János (John) Pamer, their former neighbour. The Augustinians purchased his house and land because the property that they had been given was small in size for the number of buildings they intended to erect there.
The "gazdagsági épület" (the work/produce building) included a brick kiln, which the Augustinians first established in about the year 1720 for making the bricks they needed themselves, and also as a means of financially supporting the monastery by selling bricks to others. The people of Buda, however, complained about the smoke and dust that resulted, and henceforth the Augustinians were restricted to producing bricks for their own use only. There was also an Augustinian cemetery on the site. The wall around the monastery grounds was completed in 1722. The Augustinians also possessed other plots of land near Buda for other agricultural purposes, including a small vineyard.
The above drawing of 1741 shows the Danube River in the foreground, on which the Augustinians would have had a small jetty. The “river side” was the rear of the property, and the photographs of 1920 and 1990 (see below) show the opposite side (i.e., the highway side) of the property. The Augustinian property extended from the highway to the Danube River, i.e., it enjoyed a highway frontage and a river frontage. The first bridge across the Danube River physically linking Buda and Pest on its opposite banks was Lánc Híd (literally, the chain bridge) was completed in 1849. (The main commercial district was on the Pest side of the river). Before 1849 transit across the Danube was provided by ferries and barges.
The present Church of St Stephen Martyr at Buda, Hungary (see above) was begun by the Order of St Augustine in 1752. It was designed by a highly-regarded Austrian architect, and built in baroque style of stone covered with plaster. The church was finally completed with the installation of its high altar in 1770, at which stage the church was solemnly consecrated. The two steeples were completed in 1753 and 1754 respectively.
The Augustinians at Buda devoted themselves to parish ministry, and from this site also conducted Mass centres in the immediate vicinity, including Holy Cross Chapel in the City Hall, and a chapel in Christina Street (Krisztina út). They also may eventually have undertaken some ministry across the Danube in Pest. It was a blow to the Augustinians when they were ordered to leave Buda. In his uninvited rationalization of the Church in his empire, Emperor Joseph II disbanded the Augustinians in Buda because their work at Buda did not involve significantly non-parochial ministries that he saw as the typical civic role for religious communities, i.e.: 1. care of the sick (hospital ministry); 2. teaching (education ministry); or 3. scholarly endeavour (university ministry).
Joseph regarded that parish work was the domain of diocesan priests, whose life was far more interconnected with the secular sphere (and over whom Joseph and his ministers had more control). The Augustinians were likewise badly affected by Joseph's restrictive decrees concerning religious orders in Austria. The Augustinians complied with the summons to depart Buda, given that a threat to the existence of the Order in the Austro-Hungarian Empire more broadly was not involved. Perhaps, also, given that many of the Augustinian friars at Buda were non-Hungarians and had closer ties with the Vienna houses of the Order, their departure from Buda might not have been as traumatic as would be imagined.
The Franciscans occupied the site by 1835, having been themselves evicted elsewhere and reluctantly forced to take over this former Augustinian parish. The central altar-piece at the Augustinian church at Buda featured Saint Stephen, the smaller one on the left highlighted Saint Augustine; the smaller one on the right honoured Saint Nicholas of Tolentino. Since Saint Nicholas was very much an Augustinian saint, the Franciscans replaced his altar-piece and inner chapel with one to Saint Francis of Assisi. This probably occurred in 1852.
The church was renovated by the Franciscans in 1926. The building was also seriously damaged in the last stages of World War II. By 1947 it had been repaired, and the interior was repainted at that time. The former Augustinian property (part of which is pictured below) faced Margít körút, the main road in Buda that led to the Margit Bridge that crossed the Danube River to Pest. (Today’s combined city of Budapest occupies both banks of the Danube River.) They are located between Mechwart Lépso (Steps) and Buday László utca (Street).
Photos (above): As seen in the above photographs taken in 1920 and 1990 respectively, the former Augustinian monastery and church are now used by the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans), who took over when the Augustinians departed late in the eighteenth century. The Augustinians had always dedicated their buildings on this site in honour of St Stephen Martyr, and the Franciscans have continued that practice right up to the present time.
The upper floor of the monastery now contains the offices of the Franciscan Provincial, and the ground floor the parish offices and meeting rooms, plus a small religious bookshop. These buildings were constructed by the Augustinians from the year 1700 onwards. The present Franciscan friars live in a newer building further back on the property. In front of the church is the Orság út (National Road), which was the main route leading to Vienna. The Ország Út was widened in 1900, causing the sacrifice of the front garden of the monastery and the church forecourt facing the road. Grateful acknowledgment is made to the Franciscan friars in Budapest for providing the material for this topic, and for translating it into English.