In 1839 two Scottish missionaries set
out for Palestine to reach out to the Jews. Riding on camels, one of them
fell off the camel’s back, broke his leg and they were forced to return
home. However, when they were on a boat travelling from the Black Sea up the
Danube, they both fell ill and had to stop in Budapest.
Archduchess Maria Dorothea, one of the few Protestant members of the
Habsburg royal family, looked after them. She told the missionaries about
her deep concern about the state of the Hungarian Reformed and Lutheran
churches and sent them back to Scotland with a request for help.
From 1840 to 1849 Budapest’s first
bridge across the Danube, the Chain Bridge, was being built and Scottish
chief engineer Adam Clark asked for English language church services to be
held for his workers and their families. The two requests arrived in
Scotland at roughly the same time. In 1841 the Church of Scotland sent its
first three ministers to Budapest with a commission to establish an
English-speaking church, to reach out to the city’s Jewish population, to
work with local protestant churches and to help the poor. A school was
started in 1846, funded by Jewish Christians.
Under right-wing and left-wing
WW II and communism
Jane Haining, the most famous person
associated with the church, became matron of the school’s girls’ home in
1932 in times of rising anti-Semitism throughout Central Europe. She
returned from holiday to Hungary after the start of war in 1939 and remained
throughout, to look after the welfare of the mainly Jewish girls.
The church and school were brought under
the protection of the Swedish embassy by Raoul Wallenberg, a diplomat who
sought to save Jewish lives. Many Jewish families survived by hiding in the
church and school. Yet like Wallenberg – who died at the hands of the
Soviets – Miss Haining was to pay a high price for her bravery. She was
arrested by the Gestapo in early April 1944, shortly after German troops
occupied Hungary. She died of disease, according to the German authorities,
on July 17 after two months in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. There
are memorials to Miss Haining from both the Church of Scotland and
Budapest’s Jewish community in our church hall.
Red Army soldiers stabled horses in the
church during the 1944-45 siege of Budapest. Then the Communist authorities
nationalised the school and church in 1950.
Hungarian and English-language worship
was kept going on a monthly basis, however, by Hungarian Reformed Church
A home for 99 years
After the collapse of communism, weekly
English language services started again and the congregation was given the
name St. Columba’s. Since 1990 the Church of Scotland has sent three
ministers to Budapest: Alison MacDonald, Susan Cowell and Ken MacKenzie.
Aaron Stevens became the minister of St. Columba’s in December 2006.
In October 2002, on behalf of the Church
of Scotland Trust, representatives of the congregation signed a 99-year
lease with the district council of Budapest’s district VI to use the church,
in return for a nominal annual rent. The agreement has given the
congregation greater security in its use of the building, the status of
which had been uncertain ever since 1950. This has enabled the congregation
to press ahead with extensive renovations, believing that God will continue
to use the church as well in the future as he has in the past.
Scottish cultural events, such as ceilidhs (informal evenings of music and
Scottish country dancing) and a Burns Supper, take place in our building. If
you are longing for kilts and bagpipes, this is where you’re most
likely to see them!