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176-Year-Old Time Capsule Recovered in Cross of Esztergom Basilica

Tamás Vaski 2021.04.22.

A 176-year-old time capsule has been recovered from inside the highest cross of the Esztergom Basilica. The copper canister within the cross of the basilica’s 100-metre-tall dome was damaged during a World War two bombing, but the documents within it, revealed after decades of being hidden, have remained in near-perfect condition.

During the renovations of the Esztergom Basilica back in January, a 176-year-old time capsule was pulled from inside the cross of its tallest dome. Within the capsule were documents detailing the 19th century construction of the basilica, as well as a book containing the names of various clergymen and parishes.

Documents Hidden for 176 Years

The capsule was placed in the cross by Archbishop József Kopácsy and chief architect József Hild. According to Csaba Török, director of the basilica’s treasury, Kopácsy wanted to share the details of the basilica and the era itself with the future.

Archbishop Kopácsy felt that the entire construction [of the basilica] would extend beyond his lifetime. Thus, when the cross had been prepared at the highest point of the basilica, he decided that he will include his memory of the builders and his memory of the era in which this church was built.”

Török said that the most interesting moment was not when the capsule was recovered, but rather when his team reached the heart of the capsule containing the Archbishop’s documents, since “the last time a human hand touched these was 176 years ago.”

It Took Decades to Build Hungary’s Biggest Church

The Castra of Esztergom has been relevant to Hungarians since Grand Prince Géza first built what is known today as Saint Stephen’s Martyr Church on its location before the first Hungarian king had even been born.

Since then, several churches have been built in the same area, the largest and most recent being the Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed into Heaven and St Adalbert, also known as the Esztergom Basilica.

Archbishop Sándor Rudnay was the one who took on the organization of the basilica’s construction in 1820. It would take 47 years to finish the task.

Archbishop József Kopácsy took on the mantle of the basilica’s construction in 1839. It was around this time that the chief architect and the one most familiar with its construction, János Packh, was murdered.

The murder left a significant obstacle in the way of construction, but it was Kopácsy who entrusted József Hild to continue on. It was Hild’s goal to highlight the monumentality of the church, making it visible from a great distance.

Kopácsy placed his time capsule in the basilica’s highest cross in 1845, two years before his death. After his passing, the responsibility of the basilica would go on to two more Archbishops, János Scitovszky and János Simor .

Photo: Attila Kovács/MTI

The church was consecrated on August 31, 1856, more than a decade before it was completed, in the presence of Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. It was for this occasion that Liszt Ferenc composed his Missa Solennis, known in Hungarian as the Esztergom Mass.

Hungarian Research Institute Begins Search for King Matthias' Remains
Hungarian Research Institute Begins Search for King Matthias' Remains

The genetic distinctiveness of King Matthias Corvinus has been identified, and the legendary Hungarian king’s remains can finally be located within the Székesfehérvár Ossuary. The search, taken on by Human Resources Minister Miklós Kásler and his team from the Hungarian Research institute (MKI), will be far from easy. Minister Kásler said that with current archaeogenetic […]Continue reading

Construction was completed on November 1, 1869. Having had both multiple archbishops and architects throughout the decades, the giant structure was no doubt different than what people thought it would look like at the beginning of the century.

Today the Esztergom Basilica is one of Hungary’s greatest sights to see. As its website puts it, it is a “classicist masterpiece.”

Featured photo illustration by Balázs Mohai/MTI