Debrecen was a big and ecclesiastical settlement as early as the Middle Ages with several churches in town the largest of which was the gothic Saint Andrew’s Church. The church was destroyed several times in the fires which frequently hit Debrecen during the past centuries. On the site and basis of the former Catholic church was built the Reformed Big Church.
With the spread of the reformation Roman Catholic life came to an end until 1693 when King Leopold I awarded Debrecen the rank of “free royal town” on the condition that Debrecen would allow Catholics to come back to live in the city. The future site of the Catholic Church was marked in Szent Anna Street where Piarist monks took on the mission to build a church, today’s St. Ann’s Cathedral. Built in Baroque and Louis Seize style, the church was elevated to cathedral rank by Pope John Paul II in 1991 who also established the Roman Catholic Diocese of Derecen-Nyíregyháza in 1993 with Debrecen as its seat.
Roman Catholic sights
1. Szent Anna Street
The original and wide Szent Anna Street led from Varga Street to the contemporary city gate (today’s Attila Square). Later, the section running to Piac Street was given the same name. Most of the important Catholic institutions and St. Ann’s Cathedral can be found in this street and its neighborhood.
2. St. Ann’s Cathedral (Szent Anna utca 15)
St. Ann’s Catholic Cathedral was built between 1721 and 1746 as a Piarist church without towers making use of the bricks of the churches that had survived from the Age of Árpád. The frontal ornaments were made by Ferenc Povolny. In the niches next to the gates there are two statues: King Saint Steven on the left and his son, Prince Saint Imre on the right. Over the main entrance you can see the coat of arms of the Piarist Order; in a small niche below it is the statue of Maria with the infant Jesus and below the statue there is the relief of Count Imre Csáky, founder of the church with a Latin inscription which reads: “thanks to the founder for his help in building the church”.
Upon entering the church, we face the main altar-piece representing the patron saint of the church, St. Ann, teaching Mary. In front of the main altar there four statues made of lime wood: St. Ambrose, St. Gregory, Pope St. Leo the Great and St. Augustine. The oldest altar-piece shows St. Joseph Calasanz, founder of the Piarist Order of Priests.
The carved work and baroque statues of the side altars date back to the 18th century. On the ceiling and on the walls below the windows you can see frescoes and stucco work representing the saints of the Árpád dynasty. The underground section of the church houses the crypts of the members of the Piarist Order including that of Imre Csáky, Bishop of Nagyvárad/Oradea whose bronze statue was erected in front of the church entrance in July 2015.
In 1991 Pope John Paul II visited Debrecen and raised the church to the rank of cathedral. The Debrecen-Nyíregyháza Diocese was formed in 1993 with Debrecen as its seat and the bishop was invested in the cathedral. Since then the church also serves as a pontifical cathedral.
3. St. Joseph’s Secondary School (Szent Anna utca 17)
Next to the cathedral there is a Catholic school, the St. Joseph’s Secondary School which was built in 1903. The Catholic school was founded in 1996 by Nándor Bosák, Bishop of the Debrecen-Nyíregyháza Diocese as the legal successor of the former Piarist Secondary School.
4. Svetits Roman Catholic Secondary School (Szent Anna utca 20-26)
It was as a result of the donation of Mrs. Mátyás Svetits, the widow of a famous Debrecen grocer that in 1896 the Roman Catholic Higher Elementary School for Girls was opened. It was followed by the opening of the Teacher Training Institute in 1898 on the site of the former synagogue, still standing in the courtyard. The large area on the corner of Szent Anna and Sumen Streets has an old and a new building which accommodate the Svetits Catholic Kindergarten, Elementary School, Secondary School and Student Hostel.
5. St. Ann Parsonage (Szent Anna utca 21)
The classicist-style building of the Roman Catholic Parsonage was created by linking two former houses in the 19th century. It was here that the birth of the son of the martyr poet of the War of Independence, Sándor Petőfi was recorded in the register of baptism in December 1848. The event is commemorated by a tablet containing an excerpt from Petőfi’s poem “Birth of My Son” placed on the wall of the building.
6. Heart of Jesus Church (Mikes Kelemen utca 31)
7. Incarnation Church (Borbíró tér 9)
8. Holy Family Church (Holló László sétány 1)
9. Saint Ladislaus Church (Füredi út 6)