Worth to know about the ELTE University Library. On stained glass windows

On stained glass windows…

We are not referring to a contemporary press release, a brochure about the library, nor to an article by our previous colleague or a monograph of the history of the library. Instead, we are recommending a lesser known, but still important source to our readers. (We even dare to say it has still relevant lines.)

It was written by a calm, experienced jurist at the end of his life, with the name of Pál Hamar of Nemespann and Gyöngyöshalász. He was „an important man”, a crown counsel and head of the University Foundation.

Instead, we are recommending a lesser known, but still important source to our readers.

In our opinion, his writing is a factual, detailed description partly about our library, thus we will quote the parts referring to the library building. Definitely worth reading!

Then follows the library, the departments of law and theology in the Szerb Street, the physiological institute and the surgery…

On the interior of the building:

The interior consists of a basement, a ground floor and two floors: the basement has six lodgings, three bookbinding workrooms, a chamber for hot water battery, wood and coal storages. The ground floor is divided into the caretaker’s room, two cloakrooms, three library rooms, one newspaper reading room and two officer’s rooms. The first floor includes a big and a small reading room, a library, and the presidential room; while the second floor has the director’s quarters consisting of six rooms, and eight library rooms, which currently function as classrooms. The floors are connected by one big and two smaller pull up machines for the books; the wide corridors can be equipped for library purposes anytime if needed; the chambers of the building have gas lighting, plumbing and telegraph wires. […]

About the hall:

The entrance from Ferencziek tere is surprising; eight white columns are holding up the ceiling which is adorned with scientific symbols; the vaulting is engraved by gray foliage flourish, the ground is black Italian marble.

On the main staircase and the reading room:

… from here 47 Salzburgian stairs lead to the verandah; this space is illuminated by seven tall windows in red-green frames, painted by yellow dyestuff from Munich. From here opens the main door surrounded by Oberalmian ruddy marble to the 60 feet long and 36 feet wide main reading room. The room has a glass ceiling and three windows facing the street. At middle high in the room and on the ground several brass balconies run decorated with green-gold flower bouquets.

On the furniture of the reading room:

... in total 40 cupboards, with 300 books in each, a total of 12.000 books take up space: two doors lead to the restrooms from the two sides; above the main entrance the life-sized portrait of the king [Franz Joseph] by painter Mór Than hangs; under the ceiling there is a broad stripe ornated with twenty symbols of the great scientists of the antiquity in the company of gilded busts and marble plates in colourful frames: at the wall closest to the street a wooden stand with thick oak parapets stands where the librarians work, distributing books. At nightly hours 60 gas lamps light up the area, at the ten tables there is plenty of space for 120 visitors who can sit comfortable on the sofas and seats. This illustrious hall of science and literature was built by Ágoston Trefort, the minister of public education and religion. The inner furnishing is still in process, but close to its end, the construction work was planned to cost 538,802 forints and 35 kreuzers while the furniture was to be 108,000 forints. The plan for the total costs was 646,802 forints and 53 kreuzers, after finishing the costs added up to 650,000 forints.

The reason why this account is so important to us is, that we know very little about the original state of the inner spaces. Dr. József Sisa comfirmed that no documentation or drawing survived describing the windows made by Ede Kratzmann (29. 04. 1847. – Vienna, 05. 05. 1922.), which were above the main staircase and were removed in the summer of 1937. However still exists a petition requesting the restoration of the stained glass windows. No, it is not by Károly Lyka, who deemed Kratzmann’s work as „sickeningly sweet pettyness”. The petition (29. 10. 1937.) was written by a law student, Vilmos Laurentzy Jr., and was „signed by many and in behalf of the library visitors”. The motive behind Laurentzy’s move was probably the fact, that „he was an artlover painter himself with great artistic judgement. At the same time a beloved social figure …”  as we know it from his daughter, Mária Laurentzy, painter-restorer.  Vilmos Laurentzy Jr. thought, that the harmony of the building was damaged and the desire for a bigger source of light was not a satisfactory reason for the removal of the windows. With the removal of the stained glass windows the hall not only lost its mystical lighting and the „shrine character”, but also the effect the hall and the building had on the readers diminished. Considering the upcoming Eucharistic Congress (1938) and the growing number of the visitors he asked for the reinstallation of the windows.
We do not know why this request was not permitted, but we know that Iván Pasteiner – following the advisement of the great authority, dr. Gerevich – changed the stained glass windows to cathedral glass that can be opened. We still do not know at the moment what happened to the removed windows.

Our story however has not ended yet. Director general László Mátrai – similarly to Pasteiner – came to the conclusion in the 1950s, that another window change is needed. After the exchange, the cathedral windows of today got to their current plane, at the main stairwell.
In conclusion, the windows we see today are not the same ones that greeted the library visitors in the past.

Based on Edit Kazimír's article