Construction of the Gothic church of St. Elizabeth began at the end of the fourteenth century, on the site of the former parish church of St. Michael, which was supposed to burn in the fire of 1380 (unless the information about the fire concerned the new church, because the papal document did not specify which temple was destroyed). The original church was first mentioned in written sources in 1230, and a dozen years later, due to the influx of German colonists to Košice, its invocation was changed to St. Elizabeth. This building was to be consecrated under a new call in 1283.
The new church, whose construction was started after 1380, was already a unique building in the Middle Ages, because of its size and form for the entire Kingdom of Hungary. Its construction was financed by rich burghers, with the support of king Sigismund of Luxemburg. Additionally, in 1392 and 1402 Pope Boniface IX issued a bull, thanks to which all the pilgrims who contributed to the construction of the church, had forgiven sins. The first stage of construction probably lasted until 1420. During its works walls were built on the southern and western sides and the first two floors of the western towers. In the years 1420-1440, an octagonal superstructure of the Sigismund’s tower and walls on the north side were made. During this period, finally the remains of the old church of St. Michael were demolished. In the years 1440-1462 the vaults were created, and subsequent works until the end of the fifteenth century were carried out under the supervision of master Stephan Lapicidus and master Stephan Staimecz from Košice. The aisles were then completed and the chapels of Holy Cross, St. Mary and finally the chapel of St. Joseph on the northern side.
After the death of king Matthias Corvinus, during the fights for the Hungarian Crown, Košice was fired by the Polish-Lithuanian army. The damaged church was repaired in the years 1496-1498, and until 1508 the chancel was completed. This date is considered as the end of medieval construction works.
Unfortunately, the main church of Košice often suffered losses due to disasters. Fires in the years 1556 and 1775 caused numerous damages to the building. In addition, in 1706 the church was damaged by the troops of Francis II Rákóczi. During one of the renovations, in 1775 the tower of Sigismund received a new baroque helmet. The earthquake of 1834 and the hurricane of 1875 forced the temple to be completely renovated. The most important renovation works were carried out in the years 1877 – 1896. In their course the form of the church was changed from three-aisle to five-aisle, as it was considered that a larger number of pillars would improve the static properties of the building. Vaults in side aisles have also been changed, the late Gothic chapel of St. Joseph was completely removed, a neo-Gothic tower was erected at the crossing of the naves, and some pinnacles and gargoyles were removed, as it threatened to collapse on pedestrians. In 1970, the church was recognized as a national cultural monument, thanks to which a few years later comprehensive renovation works began. According to available documents and projects found in the archives, crowns of the gables, gargoyles and other details of architectural decor were than reconstructed.
The church in Košice was erected as a three-aisle building with a transept and a polygonal chancel on the eastern side. The side aisles also received polygonal closures. In the southern part of the temple there is a chapel, a porch and above it a royal oratory. The entrance to it was placed in a Gothic spiral staircase, modeled on the communications turret from the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, built by the famous master architect Peter Parler. On the north side a sacristy was placed next to the presbytery. The west façade was topped with a triangular gable and two towers: the southern one called Matthias Tower (in honor of king Matthias Corvinus), which dates from 1461, and the soaring northern one called Sigismund’s Tower from 1420-1462, whose four-sided base passes above the third floor in octagon. A curiosity of Matthias‘s Tower is a maze of round, connected stairs. Its meaning has not been clarified. The walls of the church on the outside are strengthened with buttresses, which are crowned with pinnacles.
Several Gothic portals lead to the interior of the church, of which the most precious is the northern one, decorated with bas-reliefs of the Last Judgment, the Life of Saint Elizabeth and Crucifixion. It is also called the Golden Gate, as it was gilded in the Middle Ages. It has been uniquely embellished probably because of facing toward the richest part of the town – the market. Portals from the west and south are also interesting. West, although it should normally be the main entrance, has relatively simple decorations. It show Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, the apostles Peter, John and James, and soldiers led by Judas. Above is placed Mary holding the body of Jesus surrounded by Mary Magdalene and Joseph. The southern portal is different from the previous ones as it is placed in the porch under the royal matroneum.
Inside, the spacious interior of the nave was certainly impressive, originally divided into three aisles, covered with stellar vaults, supported by massive pillars of various sections. The inter-nave arcades, like the chancel arch, received ogival forms.
Today, the Košice church, now cathedral, is one of the most valuable Gothic monuments in Slovakia, and is also a symbol of the city. Inside, you can see, among others, the Gothic main altar of St. Elizabeth, an outstanding work of medieval Slovak painting, made in 1474-1477, composed of 48 painted scenes. A very valuable monument is also the Gothic Crucifixion group from around 1320, placed on the windowsill of the southern oratorio.
The cathedral complex also includes the 14th-century tower of St. Urban, formerly a belfry. 36 gravestones from the 14th-15th century were built into its outer walls. One of them is dated to the 4th century and is attributed to the Roman Empire.
Lexikon stredovekých miest na Slovensku, red. Štefánik M., Lukačka J., Bratislava 2010.
Website zabytkowekoscioly.net, Koszyce, katedra św. Elżbiety.
Website wikipedia.org, St Elisabeth Cathedral.