Last night a few of us from our study abroad group decided to immerse ourselves in the culture of Budapest and go to a small organ and choir concert in a catholic church. Sitting in the creaky old pews under the lavish gold and intricately painted ceilings, I overheard a conversation between two members of our group. One said to the other, “What a shame it is that Budapest has so many gorgeous churches that do not get used regularly.”
During my short time in the city, I have already learned very few Hungarians attend church regularly. Like most of Europe, Hungary is full of religious symbols. Many of the popular tourist attractions are ornate churches or bold statues of saints and angels, such as those of Heroes’ Square. The preamble of the Hungarian Constitution mentions the pride the Hungarian people had for their first king, Saint Stephen who “built the Hungarian settlement on solid ground and made [the] country part of Christian Europe 1,000 years ago”. An American looking at pictures of the city’s most popular attractions without knowing the history of the country, he or she would assume the country was strongly religious. This is not the case.
“What a shame it is that Budapest has so many gorgeous churches that do not get used regularly.”
During my time here, I have discovered there is a small number of people actively practicing religion. I was surprised while taking a tour of the city, how many times my tour guide told me the churches we were walking in were not used for religion anymore, they were simply just historical symbols of what once was. I also remembered our teacher, Maxey Parrish, had mentioning that many historical churches are now used as the stage for secular events to help maintain church funding.
I wanted to learn what led to the significant decrease of religion in Hungary. A major part of the country’s history was the Soviet’s Union communist occupation that began in 1944. This led period led to the decrease in religion for two reasons. First, 59 of 63 religious groups were dissolved.
With the loss of these religious groups, Hungary officially became an atheist country.
Religious practices in this time were considered risky and many Hungarians submitted to the anti-religious structure of the Soviets due to fear. After the communist rule in Hungary, many people felt defeated. They began to feel as if God had abandoned them and because of this, large number of Hungarians did not return to religion.
Since arriving in Budapest, I have not been able to stop myself from comparing this new culture I am immersing myself in to the one I left behind for a six weeks in Waco, Texas. I think looking for similarities between the two cultures helps me feel more connected to Budapest and helps me feel like I am not too far away from home. Looking at religion in Hungry reminds me of the role of religion in Waco in a way. In “the buckle of the Bible belt” Waco almost everyone claims they are Christian. Almost everyone goes to church, whether they have a relationship with God or not. During my time at Baylor I have heard complaints of people discussing the actions of others and discussing someone who would “get drunk on Saturday night and still go to church on Sunday morning”. Similarly to Budapest, if an outsider looked at the culture in Waco, he or she would assume Wacoans are all strongly religious due to the number of churches the city has and the claims of the people in the city but that is not always the case.
Comparing the religious cultures of Budapest and Baylor, I have been able to see similarities between the two places. I have also been able to understand that like home, not everything in Hungary is as it seems. I am excited to continue my journey in Budapest and discover more of the unexpected.