Gáspár Fábián, the church builder
„What about you, Mr. Fabian?! You decorate all your tasks with a tower!" Indeed, Gáspár Fábián is best known as a church builder, and as his autobiographical memoirs show, his dear teacher Virgil Nagy had already noticed his attraction in this direction during his university years. His most significant legacies are the Church of the Holy Cross on Üllői Road, the Holy Family in Szondi Street, St. Vincent de Paul on Haller Square, or the Ottokár Prohászka Memorial Church in Székesfehérvár. This week we are going to revive the oeuvre of Dr. Gáspár Fábián.
From Fehérvár to the Technical University
The conservative architect, who worked mostly between the two world wars, was undoubtedly one of the most employed architects of the era. Almost ninety buildings are related to his name, including more than forty Catholic churches.
The sources show that Gáspár Fábián was born in a Hungarian lower noble family on 2 January, 1885 in Székesfehérvár. Builders, masons and carpenters were among his paternal ancestors for generations. After his excellent high-school graduation, he enrolled in the architecture department of the Technical University on his brother’s advice, and was admitted to the St. Emmerich Dormitory on the recommendation of a Jesuit from Fehérvár. The years he spent here were decisive for his intellectual and spiritual development. During his university years, he won several applications. After graduating, he enlisted as a one-year volunteer in October 1908, successfully passed the sapper lieutenant exam, then returned to the Technical University and worked for two years as a teaching assistant to Virgil Nagy.
His professional career took off when World War I broke out in 1914. He joined the 4th Sapper Regiment in Budapest on July 31 and was soon commanded to the Russian battlefield. After a year of battlefield service, he became typhoid and was taken to a military hospital for seven months. After his return, he faced another difficulty: his savings were devalued. Unable to return to the battlefield, he graduated as an economist in disabled officer status. Then he managed to get a job as a teacher, but could not support his family from his salary, so he became a journalist besides teaching, and got an economics columnist position at the Új Lap edited by József Vass. Fortunately, József Vass was not only interested in journalism. When Vass received the leadership of the ministry of culture, he took him under his patronage immediately. He commissioned Fábián with the design and construction of the pavilion-based Mester Street High School - today the András Fáy Technical School. The current home of the school was built between 1922 and 1928 according to the plans of Gáspár Fábián and Loránd Lechner. It was around this time that he completed the children's hospital in Madarász Street and the buildings of public hospitals in Nyíregyháza, Kisvárda and Szekszárd. His most significant and perhaps best-known school building is the St. Margaret Girls' Grammar School in Buda, which was built in neo-baroque style on the request of the owner. Meanwhile, Fábián did not give up writing either, from 1 January, 1921 to 1932 he was the editor-in-chief of the Építő Ipar – Építő Művészet (Construction Industry – Construction Art) founded by Miklós Ybl.
Holy Cross - Holy Family
Church life began in Külső-Ferencváros in 1920, when the establishment of an independent parish was only a dream for the community living here. Believers had to wait for this until 1924; their main endeavour after the formation of their congregation was to provide a permanent room for worship. This was finally achieved by the acquisition of the brick barrack of the 4th reserve hospital on Mary Valeria estate. The first mass was held on 6 September, 1925 in the poorly designed small chapel. When finally enough money was raised for construction - with significant support from the capital – they only had to select the site. As Fábián wrote in his autobiography, the biggest headache in the construction of a church was always the location of the plot, this was also the case here. The 573 m2 building on the corner plot at the intersection of Üllői Road and Ecseri Road, suitable for 2,000 people, was consecrated on 14 September, 1930 by Prince Primate Jusztinián Serédi. Although the building was full of life, the tower clock of the church always showed the same time because it never had a clockwork. The building survived World War II successfully, with only minor damages. In the 1960s, the surrounding slums were demolished, and with the construction of new housing estates, not only the population but also the number of believers increased. The complete renovation and modernization were completed by 2005, on the 75th anniversary of the consecration and the tower clock has been operating as well since then.
The church in Szondi Street was needed because the population of Budapest increased significantly between the two world wars. Land disputes before the construction were also covered by the contemporary press. The congregation wanted to build the parish on one corner of Epreskert, but the Ministry of Culture had other plans. The capital offered for church construction an abandoned apartment building with a narrow front, built-in on three sides. The new building was consecrated on 15 November, 1931 by Coadjutor István Breyer. During the World War II, on 1 January, 1945, it was hit by a bomb and was seriously damaged; the entire furniture was also destroyed then. The building has an eclectic style, but clearly wears the marks of medieval church architecture. The atmosphere of its façade reminds of Romanesque churches, but the details, especially the windows clearly resemble English Gothic.
The extremely hard-working architect was the first in church architecture to use a type of stone mined in the vicinity of Üröm and Pilisborosjenő, instead of the previously used limestone. This stone was not only durable and beautiful, but also extremely cheap, as it was almost as cheap as plaster. Fábián considered his masterpiece the Ottokár Prohászka Memorial Church in Székesfehérvár, consecrated in 1933, which stands out completely from his oeuvre with its giant dome evoking the Pantheon in Rome. Fábián suffered a stroke in 1936 and retired in 1938. The architect and his family also rest in the garden of the Prohászka Memorial Church, and a bust was erected in his memory in 1990.
Translated by Zita Aknai