I was brought up thinking that every time I visited a church for the first time, I got three wishes. And if I visited more than one church for the first time on the same day, I wasn’t to repeat my wishes. It could well have been my mother’s way of getting me to darken the doors. Whatever. It worked. I still do it.
There are days when I actively seek out a church that I’ve not been to before. I could, of course, just pray. But there’s something special about being in a church for the first time. And you don’t even have to be religious or spiritual. There’s a wealth of art and stories in our churches, from the simplest to the most ornate. I have my favourites. The ones I remember. Like the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe with the classic stairway, or St Elizabeth’s Cathedral in Košice with the altar made from guns, or the fabulous Painted Church in Honaunau.
I’ve been to Bratislava a number of times and each time I’ve visited the Blue Church. And each time it was closed. This time I got lucky. The Church of St Elizabeth is a Hungarian Secessionist Catholic church that was originally built for students of the adjacent school but then opened to the public. It was designed by Hungarian architect Ödön Lechner who was also behind one of my favourite buildings in Budapest, the Postal Savings Bank. One visitor describes it as Hundertwasser and Gaudi in Bratislava. I’ll admit that neither came to mind when I saw it and on reflection, I still can’t see Hundertwasser or Gaudi. It’s all Lechner.
It was Friday. And knowing we’d be travelling on Sunday, I figured I’d get mass. Himself said he’d stay. too, thinking it was Friday evening; a quick 20 minutes and we’d be done. Nah. The sermon alone was 20 minutes. But what a brilliant example of vocal variety that priest gave. I hadn’t a clue what he was saying but he ticked all the boxes for a compelling delivery. I was a little distracted by the steady stream of tourists peeking around the door, some even brazenly taking photos. One young woman was on video call with her friend and gave her a full tour of the happenings. The mind boggles. Some things you just don’t do. In my world, anyway.
Another church in Bratislava that I’ve never seen open is the cathedral (although I think it was because I’ve been mistaking the back door for the front door). This time we walked around it to see what was on the other side and yes, there was a door. A big door. St Martin’s Cathedral started off in 1221 as a Romanesque church but within a century the community had outgrown the church and a bigger one was needed. Work on a new Gothic cathedral began on the same site in 1311. It took a while. Money was hard to find and the ambitions were high. And there were the Hussite Wars that put paid to much of anything happening in the city. It was finally consecrated in 1452. Imagine. Four generations of craftsmen could have worked on it over that period. In the 1700s, a Baroque chapel was added and is now a mausoleum. It was re-Gothicised in the late 1800s after being damaged by fire, war, and an earthquake.
It was here that every king and queen for miles had their coronations. Between 1563 and 1830, 11 kings and queens plus 8 of their consorts were crowned here, including the one and only Maria Theresa (25 June 1741). Some of the altar work is quite ornate. It’s a vast place, quite sterile and imposing in comparison with the Blue Church.
I was taken by the statue of St Martin, one I’ve come across a number of times in Hungary. Him, on his horse, slicing his cloak in two to share with a beggar. I know there’s such a thing as artistic licence but given that the horse’s hooves are as close as they are, I’d have thought that poor unfortunate would have had more on his mind than getting half a cloak.
Bratislava has a sense of humour. The city is littered with statues, new and old, that stop you in your tracks and make you wonder. I couldn’t find the one of the paparazzi this time, but he’s there somewhere.
It’s a gem of a city that I never get tired of.