Can You Find the Hidden Church on Rákóczi Avenue?

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Sometimes you’ll walk down the same street multiple times and take everything you see for granted. Pay closer attention — sometimes there are hidden secrets that are right in front of your neighbourhood.

One story that has been going viral over the past 24 hours in the Hungarian media concerns the hidden church on Rákóczi Avenue.

Hungarian website válasz.hu are running an interesting YouTube series called Láthatlan Budapest, which translates as hidden Budapest. Its most recent episode is particularly fascinating because it covers a place that all of us living in Budapest, or even travelling through, will have passed without a blink. The video below is in Hungarian, but I’ll do my best to translate and summarise it in English for those of you with curious minds out there.

Take the number 7 bus from Keleti station in the Buda direction and get off at the Blaha Lujza stop. Walk about 100m further up back towards Keleti station and take a look across the road. Pay real close attention, is there anything unusual here? Can you see the 19th century Evangelical church? No? Well it’s there, only it’s hidden. The grand entrance at number 57 with its arched portico is gateway to the building known as “Luther House”, and is also home to the former Slovak Evangelical Church.

The entrance at 57 Rákóczi Avenue. Photo credit valasz.hu.
The entrance at 57 Rákóczi Avenue. Photo credit valasz.hu – a screenshot taken from the video.

Beyond the entrance, the hidden church lies in the centre of the courtyard, where the oldest part of the church can be found in the back of the structure. Today there is a small chapel in place and the only part of the building still used for religious services today. This was also home to the first Slovak school in Hungary, and in the academic year of 1832-33, esteemed Hungarian poet Sándor Petőfi also studied here.

The church was built in the 1860s for the then resident Slovak-speaking Protestant community. The church, the school and the priest’s residence took up all the community money, so the surrounding land became a hub for apartment building construction. It began at first as a U-shaped construction and then completely surrounded the church, cutting it off from the outside world, which made it completely obscured from the main road on Rákóczi Avenue.

View from above. Photo credit valasz.hu.
View from above. Photo credit valasz.hu – screenshot from the video.

The church played a core part in the life landmarks for important Hungarian writers and figures, like writer Kálmán Mikszáth, who had his wedding here.

Inside the courtyard by the church. Photo credit valasz.hu.
Inside the courtyard by the church. Photo credit valasz.hu – screenshot from the video.

However, the church lost its congregation after the subsequent World Wars, evacuation, population exchange, and the congregation dwindled to even smaller numbers. In 1965, the church management decided to sell the church and it fell into private hands. Since then the building itself has been transformed into a casino, a dance studio, and today it’s a gym. In the 1960s or 70s, the church was divided up into three floors. On the first floor today, there is a gym, with the changing rooms on the ground floor. On the top floor above the gym, there is a cross fit room, where you can still spot the original features of the church windows, along with its church-like acoustics.

The old church’s exterior condition is not the best, and its owners haven’t paid attention to the upkeep of this historic and curious buildings. The tower and some of the older features of the church are untouched and crumbling. Signs warning passers by of the danger of falling rubble can be found outside the church.

So next time you walk down Rákóczi Avenue, just think that everything is not all it seems.

Content and images adapted from the Hungarian original on Válasz.hu’s YouTube channel.

 

 

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