Several reports and articles were published in the past weeks hinting that the last great design of legendary architect Imre Makovecz, who passed away in 2011, might be realized in Budapest after all, despite former opposition towards the project. Although the design plans of the monumental cathedral were never supported by the Hungarian Catholic Church because it found the construction of the building unnecessary and costly, some say the circulating news in the pro-government media is evidence that the government might be preparing for something on the matter.
The story of the Catholic Cathedral of Makovecz started in 2004 at the time he sent one of his works to the design competition of the XII district local government for a parish church on Apor Vilmos Square. He later reworked these and created the plans for a grandiose cathedral often referred to as the ’Hungarian Sagrada Família.’
The Monumental building was set to be similar in size to the Matthias Church, with a 70-meter-high church tower and a nave of the same length.
FactImre Makovecz (1935-2011) was one of the most significant Hungarian architects of the 20th century, the founder and major representative of Hungarian Organic Architecture. He designed some of Hungary’s most unique buildings that aim to work with the natural surroundings rather than triumph over them. Makovecz received nearly a hundred awards and prizes including the Kossuth Prize, Academie d’Architecture, Grand Medaille d’or, Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic, and Commander’s Cross with Star. Makovecz was a devout Christian, and one of the most politically engaged architects of his time. With his conservative and civic value system, he was an active participant in public life after Hungary’s transition to democracy following the fall of communism. He was the founder of several public civil associations, and a core supporter of the Viktor Orbán-led conservative Fidesz party. As a result, the opinion of him and his work is partly a political issue in Hungary to this day.
It is not surprising therefore, that the implementation of the project would require astonishing sums of money. In 2011, the costs were estimated at HUF 10 billion (EUR 27,9 m) and the construction of the building, which would require mainly handmade components, could only be finished in 5-10 years. Due to the booming prices in the construction sector, the project would probably cost several times as much today, which makes it even more obvious that the Makovecz Church could only be realized with the support of the government.
Although he won the design competition, neither the government nor the Catholic Church supported the investment.
The matter of the cathedral surfaced once again following his death in 2011.
Several opinions supporting the project appeared in the press, while CÖF, an NGO closely associated with the Orbán government, launched a fundraising campaign for the cause.
However, the leadership of the Catholic Church stayed persistently against the project. The main reason for rejecting even the possibility of the Cathedral was most likely related to the severe problems they had to deal with regarding one of the architect’s previous buildings.
The Piliscsaba campus of the private Pázmány Péter Catholic University financed by the Catholic Church in Hungary was also designed by the master architect. Although stunning at first sight, the grandiose building complex has many shortcomings including its lack of functionality: among many other problems, using and maintaining the building is extremely costly. This had put an extreme strain on the Church in the past, so much so that from January 1 of this year, the Hungarian state had to take over the operation of the campus.
Thus the position of the Catholic Church on the planned cathedral was clear: the parish community did not need such a building, it could not make use of it, moreover, there are already countless churches in the immediate vicinity of the site.
The fate of the Makovecz Church, envisioned on Apor Vilmos Square, was sealed permanently in 2017 when the Catholic church decided to build a community house in its place. It seemed that that was the last time anyone would hear about the project.
To the surprise of many, at the very beginning of this year, news that the Makovecz Cathedral could still be built somewhere in Budapest spread through the government media. Some wrote that more and more people are embracing the project.
Despite the fact that neither the Catholic Church nor the government seem to support the project, the son of the architect, Pál Makovecz, president of the Makovecz Imre Foundation said in a recent interview, if the construction work were to start this year, the cathedral envisioned by Imre Makovecz could be built in a decade.
Even though a much smaller church building designed by the architect is currently being built in the XVII district and may be completed in the autumn, according to his son that church built “at the farthest point of Budapest” alone does not adequately represent the architect’s oeuvre in the Hungarian capital.
After news about the cathedral’s possible construction began circulating, many wondered why the subject was brought up. Some speculate that the Orbán government is behind the matter, trying to influence public opinion to support the investment.
However, liberal 444.hu reached out and asked several of their government and church contacts who all claimed that they were unaware of such intentions. This seems to indicate that it is not Fidesz working behind the scene. At this point, it remains unclear why the idea of the Cathedral surfaced in press news.
Featured photo illustration via Hírtv’s Youtube channel. In the photo: Visual design of the Makovecz Cathedral