After that, we continued towards the crypt which was transformed and renewed in a way to become one of the main tourist attractions of the renewed church. The old crypt gave place to the urn cemetery, the ornamental graves, the chapel, the transformer box and a couple of storages; however, the renewed crypt offers a clean, freed space. My mind’s eye could see the interactive exhibition designed to present the church and the Dóm Square, the collection of art treasures, the pilgrim tourists, the businessmen arriving to a conference, the young ones coming to a concert, the university students looking through their notes in the pilgrim cafeteria while sipping a cup of coffee, the children who are on a class field trip, the movie fans arriving to a film screening, the curious foreigners or the marketing specialists who are looking for an exclusive event venue. This is a modern, simple, spacious, clean, functional, yet sacred and highly exciting space, where the ornamental graves and the living, pulsating, hectic present can get along perfectly. It offers an interesting excursion through the centuries.
From the “basement” we continue towards the “attic”, because we wanted to climb the western tower despite the 40 degrees Celsius temperature. The panorama is a real must see, not to mention the fact that certain levels will be full of life. The newly designed small rooms, or so called community melting pots, will give place to individual workshops and workgroups, and these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. These small rooms would be lockable acoustically and physically to provide calm atmosphere for the people inside and for the tourists outside, but they could also be opened wide to have a much bigger space. One can climb the tower all the way to the circular lookout balcony, and the spiral staircase also leads through the bell chamber. By the way, the eastern tower has a built-in elevator which ensures accessibility inside the building.
Coming down the tower stairs, before we continued towards the Demetrius (Dömötör) Tower and the open-air stage, we stopped one more to enjoy the cool of the church and to gaze at its beauty.
While we were climbing up the steel stairs of the Demetrius Tower, the sun continued to scorch the city. Meanwhile, I found out from László Váncza that this tower is an outstanding historical monument and an almost unique representative of the Great Hungarian Plain’s medieval architecture. The renovation has been carried out in a way to adjust the final structure which was created by Béla Rerrich in the 1930s. The tower, following the medieval tradition, now serves as a consecrated baptistery. The original function of the baptistery has been restored, and the amazing aura of Vilmos Aba-Novák’s liturgical wall paintings has also been fully reconstructed. The first floor gives space to interactive exhibitions, and the wrought iron gate known as the “Gate of Life” was restored. I also learnt that the arcade of the Dóm Square annex will get a new covering, while the annex itself will also be protected from damages caused by pigeons.
From there we walked straight to the stage of the Szeged Open-Air Festival which became a permanent guest on the Dóm Square over the decades. In the past, the church facade always served as a part of the stage set, while the main entrance became practically unusable. The renewal process involving the church also had an impact on the use of Dóm Square, as well as the games. So, the stage and the auditorium took a 180-degree turn, and the stage itself got a new revolving platform system. The lighting control system, the sound reinforcement system and the dressing rooms of the actors and actresses were also renewed. This new solution gave an entirely new image to the Open-Air Festival, while the renewal of the two city symbols reinforces the idea that the Dóm Square is the real scene of city life.
After several hours of wandering and looking around, I took a rest in my air-conditioned living room to digest the huge amount of information that I got and to mediate on the past and present of the church and the square. I wondered if it is possible to remove the artistic and architectural
definitions of this wonderful place and make it more than “just” a cathedral. Which is that certain point when a flat becomes a real home? When and how can we achieve that certain state when the Votive Church of Szeged becomes more then a cathedral?
Then I remembered a movie (Keeping the Faith), an American romantic comedy which gave me a somewhat freely interpreted explanation.
“God always relied on the kindness of strangers. And that’s really what the Dóm Square is about. It’s about us taking care of each other in order to be a good community. It’s about our faith in each other. … It’s a hunch that there is something bigger connecting it all. Connecting us all together. And when we come here on this square tonight with our friends and families to speak with each other, we could experience this feeling of togetherness. And it would also know that we’re doing pretty well as a community.”
Few things are more important nowadays than this feeling, so come to the square and to the cathedral. Step in. Talk about them. Explore them. And while you are there do not forget to pray, laugh, cry, meditate and to have fun. Then our square and cathedral will be real “homes”.