Twenty miles to the west of Budapest, the remains of a 13th-century monastic church sit on top of a hill in the small Hungarian town of Zsámbék.
Construction of the church began in 1220 and was completed some 30 years later by the middle of the century. Descendants of a French knight, Ainordi (Aynard) de Champagne, originally funded the building of the Premonstratensian church. Founded in 1120, Premonstratensian monks believed in living a severely austere lifestyle.
In 1241, Mongols destroyed parts of the church during an invasion of Hungary. Despite the damage, monks were present at the abbey for many years. In the 15th century, a fire burned down much of the church. Then in 1541, Turkish forces occupied the hill for over a century. They converted the church into a fortress. The additional stone fortifications are probably the only reason the church still stands today.
The most devastating event in the building’s history took place in 1763. The worst earthquake in the country’s history, with an estimated magnitude of 6.3 on the Richter scale, destroyed much of the church.
After the earthquake, local villagers also took stones from the crumbling church to rebuild their community. To this day, many pieces of the church are lodged in the walls of village homes.
Eventually, a restoration of the church finally commenced in 1889 under the direction of Hungarian architect István Möller. But it was ultimately decided to keep the church as ruins and to preserve the church as it was.
Since 1986, there has been continuous research and restoration done in the ruins. However, the future of the church remains uncertain.
Know Before You Go
The town of Zsámbék is best reached by bus (check www.volanbusz.hu for times and stop location). The town is easily accessible from Budapest as well. Within Zsámbék, the hill-top church can be seen from many points so you should just be able to follow your eyes and the many signs to reach the church.
Tickets can be bought at the location, and student and family discount are available. Opening hours are listed online. The fékomadta medieval festival takes place every year in Zsámbék where the church plays a role in medieval reenactments.