Postcard from Toulouse, France: Church-hopping, so genuflect quickly

Above, Altar for the Privileged in the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Daurade. Is the skull an invitation to enter or a dire warning not to dare trespass within? I elected not to test it.

Time for a final round of visits to churches in Toulouse. First stop is the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Daurade. The Virgin Mary’s “golden” designation came from shimmering mosaics in the original 5th-century church adjacent to this site. The church’s prized statue of the Virgin was stolen during the 15th century and replaced. Particularly revered by pregnant women, the figures of the Virgin and Child became so blackened by the smoke of votive candles lit by supplicants that the Virgin became known as the Black Madonna, or La Vierge Noire, by the 16th century.

Riverside, the Black Madonna’s original home was demolished in 1761 for the construction of wharves. Rebuilt, a new church served as the Virgin’s temple for only a short time before the 1789 outbreak of the French Revolution. Revolutionaries repurposed the church as a tobacco factory and set the icon ablaze in the Place du Capitole, reducing the treasured statue into a pile of ashes.

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Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: The church of the Raven King of Hungary stands as stunning landmark

In 1458, a raven flew from Transylvania to Prague bearing a ring sent by the mother of Matthias to let him know to return home. Or so some claim. The raven and the ring symbol can be seen throughout Budapest, and Matthias became known as Matthias Corvinus, corvinus meaning raven in Latin.

The Diet elected the 15-year-old king, even though he had no direct dynastic claim to the throne. He would rule until his death, somewhat suspicious in cause, in 1490. His reign was noted for increased military power, the rise of power of lower nobility at the expense of the upper crust and an artistic Renaissance.

Perched atop a hilltop on the Buda side of the river, the church known as Matthias Church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The earliest portions of it were built in the 13th century. Styles range from a medieval relief depicting Mary’s death dates from 1370 to major Gothic details added to the outside and murals inside added at the close of the 19th century.┬áThe tallest tower was added by King Matthias, whose royal wedding was held in the church.

Conquering Turks in the mid-1500s white-washed the walls and covered them with carpets to transform the church into a serviceable mosque. Before the Ottoman invasion, some of the faithful walled up the Loreto Chapel containing a statue of the Black Madonna dating from 1515. An explosion in 1686 at the castle nearby sent that wall crumbling, and the statue reappeared for the faithful prior to the end of Ottoman control in 1699.

The church then was remodeled in the Baroque style. Among the kings whose coronations have been held there is Emperor Franz Josef in 1867.

The extensive changes characterizing the appearance of the church today were undertaken in 1895, including the installation of the gleaming, colorful Zsolnay ceramic roof tiles. Despite the intermingling of so many conflicting styles through the centuries, Matthias Church stands as a stunning landmark above the Danube.