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. The 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.

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Failed again to spy the Holy Grail

Two years ago, we missed the clues secreted in the cup of the 12th angel over the 12th gate in the Cathedral in Cuenca.

But wait. Maybe Cuenca is not where the chalice was at Jesus’ place during his Last Supper was hidden away by the Knights Templar. Some claim it to be sitting right there in plain view in a chapel in Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Valencia where all can visit it.

An entrance fee replaced the mystery surrounding the Holy Grail hidden in Cuenca. We paid, but once again were as deprived in our quest as the knights of King Arthur. The chapel was closed temporarily.

Consecrated in 1238, the cathedral was built upon the remains of a Visigoth church that had been turned into a mosque. Although primarily Gothic in design, lengthy construction and additions led to portions spanning styles from Romanesque to Neoclassical.

While much of the interior is somewhat plain, the church does include two paintings by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), including the pictured one of an exorcism in progress.

Oh, and then there is an arm. The arm purportedly was attached at one time to Saint Vincent, Martyr, the patron saint of Valencia. Imprisoned in Valencia, the archdeacon of Saragossa faced his test of faith in 304. After stretching him on a rack, Vincent’s tormenters were frustrated by his calm and even joyful countenance despite the pain they inflicted. His flesh was torn by hooks, and he was tied to a red-hot iron grate. As if that was not enough, they rubbed salt in his wounds before he succumbed to the multitude of his injuries. His mangled body was thrown in the sea but washed ashore where his relics were guarded by a raven until retrieved by the faithful.

Two-hundred and seven stairs ascend the interior of the tower of the cathedral. Two family members elected to climb, while one volunteered to stay at the base in case they needed her for scale in photos.

So, maybe are destined to never find a trail to the Holy Grail. That is, unless we travel to Leon in northern Spain and pay the entrance fee to the museum in the Basilica of San Isidoro, where another “real” grail is housed.

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Grotesque guardians watched over silk exchange

While orange trees abound along the streets of Valencia, mulberry trees were more important as a cash crop in the 1400s. Not for the fruit, but because their leaves provided food for the very hungry caterpillars striving to build cocoons and emerge as moths. The moths only live about five days, but lay hundreds of eggs before their passing.

For Valencian farmers, the cocoons were the most important result of the short life cycle. After a dip in boiling water killing the pupa who so industriously wove it, a silkworm’s cocoon can be unraveled to produce a strand of silk ranging from about 1,000 up to almost 3,000 feet long.

So unravel the Valencians did. They unraveled so much, that by 1482 the fortunes amassed and riches anticipated from future trade enabled the silk merchants to begin construction of a major Gothic edifice worthy of housing their transactions.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Lonja de la Seda has a hall with soaring palm-tree-like columns for conducting transactions, a tribunal hall for adjudicating commercial disputes and even a prison for those found at fault.

Ah, but there are devils in the details. Although the Virgin Mary crowns the entryway and there is a nod to the crown on the side, many of the embellishments throughout the secular compound feature up-to-no-good-looking creatures. Was the ornamentation designed to warn dishonest merchants to stay away or to represent merchants thumbing their noses at the power of the church?

Less expensive fabric from Japan and China began dominating the silk market in the 1800s, but the streets of Valencia still house numerous shops continuing to vend fine silk brocade, with windows displaying their use in women’s fashions of centuries ago.

Oh, and the model wearing one such dress? She simply popped into camera view on a walk the same day we visited the silk exchange.