American congregations tend not to look abroad when seeking architects to design their churches. That was not the case, however, in 1909 in South Norwalk, Connecticut, when a congregation of Catholics made up of Hungarian immigrants turned to Hungary’s most prominent architect, Ödön Lechner, to envisage their future place of worship. So, if you have ever asked yourself the question “How did a church in Budapest’s Kőbánya neighborhood appear to be cloned and transplanted to a sleepy New England town?” we are here with the answer.
Known as a pioneer in the Hungarian Art Nouveau movement, Lechner has been nicknamed the ‘Hungarian Gaudi’ for his distinctive, visually striking style. Unlike Gaudi, however, he drew on Persian influences, innovated with iron, incorporated motifs of Hungarian folk-art in his buildings’ decoration, and worked with Zsolnay terra-cotta tiles to forward a national Hungarian style. You can find a famous example of his distinct style in the building for Budapest’s Museum of Applied Arts (pictured).
The South Norwalk church’s origins date back to 1899, when the local Hungarian community felt under-served in ministrations after a local Hungarian girl was hit and killed by a train. They subsequently sought to establish a church for ethnic Hungarians and Hungarian speakers. It was completed in 1912, with “Hungarian blood, toil, and dreams,” as the newspaper The Hour quoted a local Hungarian resident. The plans closely resemble the Kőbánya church, which was completed in 1897, as pointed out by on-line sources, most recently in an article in Hungary’s leading online news outlet, index.hu.
St. Ladislaus (the Latin name for László, a Hungarian king from 1077 to 1092, and to whom the church cornerstone is dedicated in Hungarian) church of South Norwalk, is of the Roman Catholic denomination, like so many thousands of churches across the United States. But the South Norwalk church distinguishes itself in being one of the few structures connected with Lechner, who primarily designed buildings for pre-Trianan Hungary (meaning you can find examples of his work in places like today's Serbia and Slovakia). While the stained-glass windows of the church were manufactured in Germany, they depict Hungarian motifs, like Szent István (St. Stephen) handing the Hungarian crown to both Mary and baby Jesus, and King László leading the charge in a crusade.
According to on-line sources, even though the congregation has opened up to non-Hungarians, and despite the fact that so many of those original immigrant families assimilated over proceeding generations, the church still has occasional services in Hungarian. If you don’t look too close, and you might just think you are in Kőbánya.
Sources: index.hu, The Hour, Wikipedia
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