After a quick tour of the square to hear some facts and take some photographs, we piled back on the bus to drive around the City Park and down the boulevard that used to be the swankiest in the capital (Andrássy Avenue). A number of foreign embassies are still located there.
Next stop: St. Stephen's Basilica, named for the king. He is the patron saint of Hungary, and his saint day (August 20) is still one of three national holidays, as the Communists were not able to stamp out devotion to him during their forty-one-year rule. In fact, Hungarians are so devoted to St. Stephen that while erecting the basilica, they asked the Vatican for a special dispensation to put a statue of him on the main altar, rather than a crucifix. It was granted. In addition, his right hand is preserved in the reliquary.
At 96m (315ft), the Basilica is one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest; the other is the Parliament, completed a few years earlier. No building in the capital is allowed to be taller. The church would have been done much earlier if the first architect hadn't died, leaving unsound plans for the dome. When the second architect couldn't get permission to alter them, construction went ahead. The dome collapsed, just as the replacement architect had predicted. They had to tear it down and start over! The interior is gorgeous, warm with gold and brown and sunlight. Good acoustics, too, despite the bustle of tourists hurrying to the next place. The group had decided beforehand to do a sort of "flashmob" and sing one song from their repertoire, which they did.