Saturday, October 14, 2006

Parliament -- the best design

The enormous gothic palace that is Parliament is the most impressive of many hugely impressive buildings along the Danube, but not by a lot. The design was selected from a contest not unlike the competition to decide what the replacement for the Twin Trade Center Towers in NYC should look like. The current building, of course, won, but the show and place designs also were built -- right next door in the same square as Parliament. One building houses the Agriculture Department and the other a wonderful Hungarian ethnographic museum.

But Parliament is fantastic. The huge stained glass windows were packed away in the cellar in huge boxes filled with sand to withstand WW II bombing.

And in the treasury room --no flash allowed -- crowds wandered past a glass box containing the Holy Crown of Hungary -- St. Stephan's crown -- and the most recognizable medieval relic in the country. Stamp collectors and art lovers will recognize it. It's perfectly preserved, this gift to the first Hungarian king from the Pope in the year 1000, except that the cross is bent.

No one knows how that happened.

But the crown has had a better fate than the Right Hand of St. Stephan, the treasure in the city's biggest cathedral. The Hungarians used to display the Right ARM of the saint, but then lent out the relic for a tour of the empire. At least this is the story guides tell, which I love. As it passed through Poland and Austria and Czechoslovakia, devout believers apparently took little snippets. It was a much reduced relic upon return to Hungary.

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