Looking around many small towns and cities in Hungary you will notice the Baroque architectural style predominates in the majority of the oldest buildings.
It seems as though each little village or town has one or two churches dating to the 1700’s. The Habsburg influence is writ large upon the landscape. Yet there are notable exceptions.
These make for delightful discoveries when something much rarer appears before your eyes.
Many passersby speeding along the M1 towards Vienna have no idea that one of the most significant architectural structures in the entire country can be found just a short distance off that highway.
An abbey, formerly Benedictine, towers over the village of Lebeny (population: 3,100), a mere 15 kilometers (9 miles) northwest of Győr. Constructed in 1208 it is one of a select few Romanesque churches that remain from the period pre-dating the Mongol Invasion of 1241-42.
Consider that churches such as these were a notable feature upon the early medieval landscape of Hungary. The fact that this one actually survived the Mongol invasion is due as much to luck as to its solid construction.
The Mongol rampage was most devastating in the Great Hungarian Plain.
Historians estimate that at a minimum half of all the settlements were destroyed. Some estimates give a figure as high as 80%. As the Mongols reached more formidable terrain in western Hungary there rampage slowed.
The places which stood the best chance of survival were those made of solid materials such as fortified castles and stone abbeys. The Mongols were known for their lightning speed on horseback and did not have time for long sieges.
They had also left their siege engineers back in the Middle and Far East. The abbey at Lebeny was thus spared.
Yet this was not the end of threats to the abbey’s existence. The Ottomán Turks burned it in 1531. It was due to be demolished in 1563 so the stones could be used in nearby Győr’s fortifications against these same Turks
. A group of Italian stone masons who were given the demolition order took one look at the abbey and decided that it was much too beautiful to be destroyed. Nonetheless, its tests of survival were not quite over.
The Turks burned it once again during their retreat in 1683. Then it underwent alteration with Baroque features in the 18th century. Fortunately a fantastic restoration was carried out starting in the 1870’s.
At Lebeny you can see for yourself the magnificent church towering over the village. Twin stone towers stand on the western end of the basilica. A triple rounded apse on the opposite end is a masterwork of Romanesque style.
The rare existence of such Romanesque abbeys in Hungary gives the one in Lebeny a singular character. It exists almost as if to prove that indeed miracles do happen.
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