Showing posts with label Transylvania. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Transylvania. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Catalogue of Liturgical Vestments of the Black Church in Brasov

The Abbeg-Stiftung (Riggisberg, CH) published an exhaustive catalogue of the liturgical vestments of the Black Church of Brașov / Brassó / Kronstadt in Transylvania. Regarded as the most important ecclesiastical collection of the Transylvanian Saxon churches, interest in the collection started already in the 19th century, but the present book, edited and largely written by Evelin Wetter, is the first systematic catalogue of the medieval and renaissance textiles preserved in the church. Several objects date back to the 15th and the early 16th century, and these remained in use even after the community and its church turned Lutheran in 1543.

The origins of the town of Brassó / Kronstadt go back to the early 13th century, when as part of King Andreas II's policies, it was established by German settlers (known in later sources generally as Saxons). Along with Nagyszeben / Hermannstadt (Sibiu), Brassó became one of the most important Saxon towns of Transylvania, and developed greatly due its favorable position near the border of the Hungarian Kingdom and along key trade routes. The present parish church of Brassó /Kronstadt, dedicated to the Virgin, was built from around 1380 until about 1470, and it is the easternmost major Gothic building of medieval Europe (it is also the largest medieval church in all of Transylvania). The original fabric of the church was heavily damaged in a fire in 1689 - hence the name of "Black church." After the fire, a slow rebuilding process started, during which the entire church had to be re-vaulted, which was carried out in a Gothicising spirit.

Black Church in Brasov, by Vlad Moldovean, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the fire, the church has preserved a remarkable array of its treasures. The treasury holds medieval chalices and other goldsmith works, and the church also preserves one of the largest collection of historic Ottoman Turkish carpets in the world. The subject of the present book is another ensemble, that of the liturgical vestments. The catalogue includes 21 objects, a few of which have been brought to Brasov from smaller communities. There are six copes in the collection (cat. 1-6), originally stemming from the late 15th - early 16th century, and made from the finest Italian (and in one case, Ottoman Turkish) velvets. There are also five Baroque chasubles (ca. 9-14), preserving outstanding late medieval or early Renaissance embroideries, along with two further separate cross orphreys.

Cope, mid 15th century, with later transformations. Brasov, Black Church (cat. 1.)

The book has been produced in an exemplary manner. I mean this in many senses of the word: first of all regarding the nature of scholarly collaboration. Evelin Wetter, the editor of the the volume, and a noted expert of medieval liturgical objects, started researching the collection in 2001. She has worked together with Ágnes Ziegler, who has worked as the art historian assigned by the church next to the collection for several years now. A study tour was made to Brasov from Riggisberg each year, where the third author of the volume, textile conservator Corinna Kienzler was also regularly present. The result in an exhaustive work, which examines and publishes the textiles in great detail. After the introductory essay by Evelin Wetter, there are 6 long studies in the first part of the book, dealing with the history of the church (Ágnes Ziegler), the history of the collection as well as with the later use of the medieval vestments (Wetter and Ziegler together). Corinna Kienzler authored important studies on later changes carried out on the vestments, as well as on the subject of the Italian or Turkish origin of the velvets. After the studies, comes the catalogue part, with detailed descriptions of the technical, historical and art historical aspects of the objects. Drawings and excellent photographs present the material as well. The book is in German, but a separate volume contains exhaustive summaries of the essays in Romanian, Hungarian and English. All of this was produced according to the very high techological standards we have come to expect from the Abbeg-Stiftung. Overall, the book is not simply a catalogue of a significant collection of liturgical vestments, but a major contribution to the study of the history of a most important Transylvanian town and community, with major implications for the medieval art history of Hungary in general.

The book was presented in Brasov by the authors on the 6th of June, along with a lecture by Ernő Marosi on the subject of communal memory. On this occasion, the vestments were presented to the public - see the photo on the left, and the accompanying article from the Allgemeine Deutsche Zeitung für Rumänien

Biblographical data: 

Evelin Wetter: Liturgische Gewänder in der Schwarzen Kirche zu Kronstadt in Siebenbürgen. Mit Beiträgen von Corinna Kienzler und Ágnes Ziegler, Vol. 1-2. (Riggisberg: Abegg-Stiftung, 2015), 484 and 160 pp. More information of the website of the Abbeg-Stiftung. 
A Hungarian-language overview of the new publication can be found on the website of Obeliscus, an online journal of Early Modern Studies.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bethlen 400

Egidius Sadeler II: Gábor Bethlen, c. 1620
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the rule of Gábor Bethlen as Prince of Transylvania. To commemorate this, a series of events are being organized both in Hungary and Romania in the Bethlen Memorial Year. The following overview is given by the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

"400 years ago, on 23 October, 1613, Gabriel Bethlen (1580–1629), the most significant Prince of Transylvania ascended the throne. He had to take over a devastated country, empty treasury and desperate politicians due to the ill-considered policy of his immediate predecessor and the damages of the Long Turkish War (1593-1606). The existence of the Principality of Transylvania was restricted by the Turkish protectorate and threatened by the Habsburg Empire. The situation was even worsened by the political and economic crisis affecting all Europe. Gabriel Bethlen was able to get out of this seemingly hopeless situation with recognizing the possibilities lying just in these desperate circumstances. He created a new, effective team of politicians, a court of high European standards, and with brilliant organizing work he could stabilize the political and economic situation in Transylvania. He connected to the European diplomatic and military processes. He generated a powerful military force, and arranged the situation – having been unresolved for more than half a century – of the Székelys forming the main part of the army. His military actions coordinated with his allies were supplemented with his many-folded diplomatic activity. With his peace treaties he was able to enlarge the territory of the Principality of Transylvania, becoming part of the European alliance system with the Treaties of Hague and Westminster. He was elected and ceremonially acclaimed king of Hungary on 25 August 1620, but later he refused to be crowned which made it possible for him to come to an agreement with the Habsburg Monarch and to keep the Ottoman Empire from gaining more influence and from expanding in Transylvania. From then on, Transylvania became the main support for the political and cultural endeavors of Hungarian estates in the Habsburg Empire. The tolerant religious policy of the protestant ruler made Transylvania a host country again. He provided the training of “up-to-date” intellectuals with founding schools and university scholarships. His multifaceted activity served as inspiration for generations from his age on through the centuries."

I would like to call attention to a few exhibitions and events of the Bethlen Memorial Year.

An exhibition on Gábor Bethlen and his era is currently on view at the Hungarian National Archives.

Opening next month (on view November 12, 2013 - February 2, 2014) is the main exhibition of the memorial year at the Hungarian National Museum. Titled Bethlen 1613, the exhibition is organized together with the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Coming up this week is the international conference Gábor Bethlen and Europe, at Kolozsvár / Cluj (October 24-26, 2013). More information on the website of the organizers, the Transylvanian Museum Society and the Hungarian Historical Institute of the Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj.

Bonus:  In May 2013, an episode of the PBS-program Antiques Roadshow featured an exceptionally rare object, a diamond marriage pendant associated with the wedding of Gábor Bethlen and Catherine of Brandenburg (1626). The object is part of a series, last seen together at the 1884 exhibition of goldsmith works held in Budapest. One pendant of the series is at the Hungarian National Museum, while another similar object is in the collection of the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest. (via the Institute of History)
You can read about these jewels in the journal of the museum, Ars Decorativa (vol. 24).

Marriage pendant shown in Antiques Roadshow, source:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Medieval frescoes at Bögöz restored

One of my favourite medieval churches is at Bögöz (Mugeni, RO), in Transylvania. The north wall of this church is covered with a rich ensemble of 14th century mural paintings, which were discovered in 1898. Fur much of the last 100 years, these frescoes were in a very bad condition: dirty, discoloured and crumbling. Finally, by the end of last year, the frescoes were cleaned, conserved and restored. Despite their somewhat fragmentary state, they are now much more visible. 
I wrote a small book on the church and its frescoes in the middle of the 1990s. In the following, I will give a brief overview of the monument, based on my earlier text. The text is illustrated by new photographs of the frescoes, most of which I received from the restorer, Loránd Kiss.

Before we start, have a look at the pre-restoration state of the church, on the Treasures of Szeklerland website. Select 'Mugeni' from among the churches - and take a virtual tour of the exterior and interior of the church.

Bögöz, view of the church

The village of Bögöz is in the middle of Udvarhelyszék, on the left bank of the river Nagyküküllő. The village was first mentioned in the sources in 1333 and 1334, as part of the Archidiaconatus Telegdiensis. The settlement at that time was one of the larger villages of the area, and it maintained an important role in later centuries as well. During the fourteenth century, several noble families from the village were mentioned in documents. The sources between 1481 and 1505 often mention a certain John of Bögöz, later captain of Udvarhelyszék, who certainly must have played an important role in the late Gothic rebuilding of the church.

The church is now Calvinist, and its building is surrounded by a simple wall. The church consists of three main parts: a large western tower, nave and sanctuary. The simple nave and the bottom parts of the tower are still from the Romanesque period, and the foundations of the original, semicircular apse were discovered inside the present late Gothic sanctuary. Thus the original church must have been built in the 13th century. The nave had been vaulted with a net-vaulting probably at the end of the fifteenth century, but this vaulting was later destroyed, and only the corbels in the wall survived. The nave is now covered with a painted coffered ceiling from 1724. The elaborate stone-vaulting of the sanctuary and its sculpted corbels have survived up to the present day.

The wall-paintings of the church are preserved on the north wall of the nave. József Huszka discovered them in the summer of 1898, and published his results and copies in the same year. The present condition of the paintings can be compared with the two sets of Huszka’s copies - the sketches in the Ethnographic Museum, and the final versions in the collection of the OMvH.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Medieval manuscripts of Batthyáneum available online

The Batthyáneum Library of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia, Romania) is one of the most important historic libraries in Transylvania. It was founded in 1798 by Ignác Batthyány, the bishop of Transylvania. The library was housed in the former church of the Trinitarian order - first an observatory was created here, and later the library was established in the building (all this was modeled on the Archdiocesan Library of Eger). The library of Batthyány grew from many sources, but the most important among these was the library of Christoph Anton von Migazzi, the bishop of Vác and also the bishop of Vienna. Batthyány bought the 8000 volume library of Migazzi, which included a lot of medieval manuscripts. When established at Gyulafehérvár, the Batthyáneum held about 20.000 volumes - a number which continued to increase throughout the 19th century. In addition to simply being a library, the institution worked as a museum, holding Batthyány's collection of minerals and naturalia, as well as a collection of ecclesiastical art. Finds from the excavations of Gyulafehérvár cathedral carried out by Béla Pósta in the early 20th century are also kept here.

The 20th century history of the library was not free from controversy: some books were sold in the 1930s, but the institution continued too function as a public library even after the Trianon peace treaty awarded Transylvania to Romania. However, in 1949 the collection was nationalized, and later became part of the Romanian National Library. Access to the collections became very limited - a situation which continues to this day. Even though a government decree returned the building and collection of the library to the Roman Catholic Archbishopric of Gyulafehérvár, the Library still functions as part of the state library system, and the court cases going on have so far not clarified the situation.

The library holds today altoghether 927 manuscripts and 565 incunabula, making it the richest collection of this kind of material in all of Romania. The medieval manuscripts are of various origins: Migazzi's library included all kinds of western manuscripts, but Batthyány also bought complete medieval libraries from Hungary, including the holdings of the ecclesiastical libraries of Lőcse (Levoča / Leutschau, Slovakia, see this Hungarian language study with German summary: Eva Selecká Mârza: A középkori Lőcsei Könyvtár, Szeged, 1997.). Several Transylvanian collections were also incorporated into the library, and there are rich holdings of orthodox Romanian manuscripts in the collection. In the framework of a European digitization project, a large number of manuscript are now available in the Manuscriptorium platform. In fact, there is a special section dedicated to manuscripts from the Batthyáneum.

The library holds a large number of first class illuminated manuscripts - many of which can now be consulted online. The following is a selection of a few of the most important of these (providing direct links to pages of this dynamic website is quite complicated. I managed to make direct links to the digital facsimile pages below - but you may start to browse or search from the start page, to get to object descriptions, etc.)

Ms II 1, first part of the Lorsch Gospels (Codex Aureus of Lorsch), from the Palace workshop of Charlemagne, dating  around 810 (on the history of the whole manuscript, see also this overview)

Ms III 87, a nicely illustrated early 15th century Franco-Flemish Book of Hours

Ms II 134, A Missal from Pozsony (Bratislava / Pressburg), dating from 1377, with explicit by Henrik of Csukárd

There is a lot more there - you can start browsing from the start page, Manoscriti qui in theca batthyanyana. Furthermore, you can find some more illuminated manuscripts from the Europeana database - not all of which have been made available in the current digitization effort.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Library of Medieval and Renaissance art in Transylvania

Rather than being a proper post, this is more like a collection of links - links to full-length books on medieval and Renaissance art in Transylvania. New databases, especially the Transylvanian Hungarian database maintained by and the newly opened Transylvanian Digital Database of the Transylvanian Museum Society, have made a number of old and new publications available, which - together with other resources - provide a good overview of art historical research in Transylvania. As most of these publications are in Hungarian, the following links will be mainly of use to my Hungarian readers - but others may find something useful as well (as some publications are in English or German). The focus of these publications is architecture, but a few other things are also available online. I'd be glad to add more resources to these - let me know if you've spotted something relevant!

I. Historical overview

History of Transylvania, ed. by László Makkai and András Mócsy, General Editor: Béla Köpeczi
Volume I. - From the Beginnings to 1606. English edition from 2001.

István Lázár: Transylvania - A Short History. 1997

II. Period of Hungarian Conquest

Gyula László: A honfoglaló magyarok művészete Erdélyben. Kolozsvár, 1943.
Art of the Hungarians at the Conquest period in Transylvania

III. Romanesque architecture

Géza Entz: Erdély építészete a 11-13. században. Kolozsvár, 1994.
Monograph and database on architecture in Transylvania in the 11-13th centuries.

Géza Entz: A gyulafehérvári székesegyház. Budapest, 1958
Monograph on the cathedral of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia).
Monograph on archaeological research at Gyulafehérvár.

IV. Gothic architecture
Géza Entz: Erdély építészete a 14–16. században. Kolozsvár, 1996.
Monograph and database on architecture in Transylvania in the 14-16th centuries.

Database of medieval churches in Transylvania.

Victor Roth: Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte Siebenbürgens, 1914

Edit Grandpierre: A kolozsvári Szent Mihály templom története és építészete. Kolozsvár, 1936.
Study on St. Michael's church in Kolozsvár (Cluj).

Géza Entz: Dési református templom (link 2). Kolozsvár, 1942.
The church of Dés (Dej).

Géza Entz: Szolnok-Doboka középkori műemlékei (link 2). Kolozsvár, 1943.
Medieval monuments in Szolnok-Doboka county.

Géza Entz: A középkori székely művészet kérdései (link 2). Kolozsvár, 1943.
Study on medieval art in the Szekler territories. 

József K. Sebestyén: A középkori nyugati műveltség legkeletibb határai (link 2). Kolozsvár, 1929.
Study on medieval art in the Szekler territories. 

József Köpeczi Sebestyén: A brassai fekete templom Mátyás-kori címerei. Kolozsvár, 1927.
Coat of arms at the Black Church of Brassó (Brasov).

László Dávid: A középkori Udvarhelyszék művészeti emlékei. Bukarest, 1981.
Monograph on medieval monuments of Udvarhely county.

András Sófalvi: Székelyföld középkori várai. In: Castrum 3, 2006.
Study on medieval castles in the Szekler territories.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Inaugural Lecture of András Kovács at HAS

András Kovács at Szászrégen (Reghin), 2009

65 year old art historian András Kovács will deliver his inaugural lecture to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences tomorrow, on October 20th (he is an external member of the Academy). The title of his lecture, to be delivered in Hungarian, is: The Gyulafehérvár palace of the Princes of Transylvania.

András Kovács's primary field of research is the architecture of 16th-17th century Transylvania. Based on a careful reading of the sources (many not even studied before) and a detailed analysis of existing building and their ruins, he fundamentally altered our knowledge of this period - the new overview of the field is now provided by his magisterial survey of the period (Késő reneszánsz épí­tészet Erdélyben 1541-1720, which is available online, either chapter by chapter or as a full pdf-version). He also wrote on medieval architecture, in particular about the cathedral of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia).

András Kovács is professor of Art History at the Babeș-Bolyai University at Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár), and during the last twenty years he has raised a new generation of Hungarian art historians in Transylvania. His pupils have just dedicated a volume of studies to him: the 23 studies represent that high level of scholarship and keen attention to detail that he always required of himself and of his students. (Liber discipulorum: Tanulmányok Kovács András 65. születésnapjára. Edited by Zsolt Kovács, Emese Sarkadi Nagy, Attila Weisz. Kolozsvár, 2011.) This in itself shows the success of his work, not to mention everything that he did in order to preserve historic monuments and to organize the field of Hungarian-language art historical research in Romania. An (incomplete) list of the publications of András Kovács can be consulted on the University's website as well as in the Transindex database (with some further works available online), and also on the website of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

With this brief post, I, too would like to congratulate András Kovács, and look forward to hearing his lecture tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Medieval wall paintings discovered at Magyarlóna

Cover of the book on Magyarlóna

The village of Magyarlóna (formerly known as Szászlóna, now Luna de Sus, Romania) is a characteristic village of the Kalotaszeg region of Transylvania, near Kolozsvár (Cluj). The village was first mentioned in 1332 as Lona, and has a medieval church dating from roughly this period. This Calvinist church has always been noted for its rich set of painted wooden furniture, including an 18th century painted coffered ceiling by Lőrinc Umling (1752). However, its medieval origin was also plain to see: even if its vaults did not survive, the Gothic south portal and the medieval windows of the sanctuary survived. However, until 2009, no real research has been carried out in order to find more of the medieval features of the building. As soon as this work started, significant medieval frescoes have been found on the walls of the nave.

Last year, a book was published about the church and the cemetery around it. Edited by Gergely Nagy (President of the Hungarian National Committee of ICOMOS) and his wife, Klára Szatmári, the book summarizes the history of the village and its church (Klára Szatmári - Gergely Nagy: Magyarlóna református temploma és temetője. Veszprém-Budapest, 2010) . The book was written at the same time as research on the building started - and the first results of this are already reflected there. This research was carried out by art historian Attila Weisz, who first identified traces of the wall paintings. At this point a restorer, Loránd Kiss was brought in to uncover and conserve these paintings. 

Magyarlóna, interior view towards East 

Work continued this year, and so far the following has been revealed: There are frescoes in the nave of the church, on either side of the triumphal arch. The scenes on these walls have been arranged in three rows. On the northern side, the upper two rows, while on the southern side, the lower two rows have been uncovered so far. The top row contains scenes from the legend of a Virgin Martyr, perhaps St. Margaret of Antiochia.  As only one scene has been uncovered so far from what must have been an extensive cycle, identification at this point is not yet possible. The second row appears to contain one large composition of the Annunciation, with the figures of archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary arranged on either side of the triumphal arch (similar to the arrangement found at Disznajó). The lower row holds images of saints, one of whom is definitely a bishop. Further images are being uncovered on the intrados of the triumphal arch, and it has also been established that likely the entire north wall is painted.

Wall paintings on the south side of the triumphal arch 

Magyarlóna thus joins a number of other churches in the immediate region where significant fresco decoration has been uncovered. The neighboring village of Szászfenes (Floreşti) has a large set of badly-preserved frescoes, while better-preserved frescoes have been partially uncovered at Magyarvista (Viştea), and the frescoes of Magyarfenes (Vlaha) have been known since the 1930s. The date of these frescoes varies, although most were painted around 1400 (you can read my Hungarian-language study on this group of frescoes at The frescoes of Magyarlóna are definitely earlier, and were likely painted during the first half of the 14th century - thus at the same time as the earlier of two sets of frescoes at Magyarvista. All these villages belonged to the estate of the bishopric of Transylvania, the center of which was at the nearby castle of Gyalu (Gilău). This factor perhaps accounts for the rich painted decoration of these small village churches - although the role of nearby Kolozsvár cannot be underestimated, either. More research needs to be carried out partly in order to uncover more of the painted cycles, and partly to better understand their iconography and internal connections. For starters, a new edition of the book on the church is being prepared, which will include a preliminary report on these frescoes.

Wall paintings on the south side of the triumphal arch 

This post could not have been written without the help of my friends, Attila Weisz and Loránd Kiss, as well as Gergely Nagy, who were kind enough to share information on these discoveries and to provide photographs. You can read more about the book (in Hungarian) here. To get to know other aspects of the the heritage of the village, chack out traditional Hungarian folk music recorded there by Zoltán Kallós in the 1960s - just search here for Magyarlóna.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fortified Saxon churches of Transylania

Birthälm (Berethalom/Biertan) 
The southern part of Transylvania has been populated by settlers from various (mainly the westernmost) parts of Germany, generally termed Saxons in medieval and more recent sources (you can read their history here). These Saxon settlers built some of the most urban settlements of Transylvania - cities such as Kronstadt (Brassó/Brasov), Hermannstadt (Nagyszeben/Sibiu) or Schässburg (Segesvár/Sighisoara). The villages of that region largely preserved their medieval structure to this day, and most are dominated by large medieval churches. Over the course of the 15-17th centuries,  as the territory was under constant threat by the Ottoman Empire, these churches were all fortified - some built into veritable castles. Transylvanian Saxons became Lutheran during the 16th century, thus these churches preserved much of their medieval treasures - including altarpieces, goldsmith works, liturgical textiles, Turkish rugs - to this day. These days, more and more frescoes are also coming to light from under the whitewash in these churches. Owing to the mass exodus of Transylvanian Saxons to Germany during the 1980s-1990s, many of these churches are out of use today, some completely abandoned. However, more and more is done to preserve this rich heritage. The churches of the region of Hermannstadt have been put on the watch-list of the World Monument Fund, while seven churches and the historic center of Schässburg are on the Unesco World Heritage list. International conservation efforts have been quite successful in some cases, as with the Church on the Hill in Schässburg, and Prince Charles has taken an interest in the region, buying property there.

Malmkrog (Almakerék/Malancrav) 

In this post, I would like to call attention to a website aimed at documenting the Saxon churches of Transylvania. The website Fortified Churches provides information on the region in five languages, with photo galleries of many of the churches (browse them under Locations). It is well worth a visit - although the best of course is visit the region in person, something I can highly recommend.

(Pictures in this post are from the Fortified Churches website. See also my earlier post on Abandoned medieval churches in Transylvania).

Monday, November 08, 2010

Abandoned medieval churches in Transylvania

The Calvinist church of Marosszentimre (Sântimbru) in Transylvania 

I would like to start this post by a poem written by my grandfather, Zoltán Jékely, in 1936. The translation included here is by Bernard S. Adams.1

A marosszentimrei templomban

Fejünkre por hull, régi vakolat,
így énekeljük a drága Siont:
egér futkározik a pad alatt
s odvából egy-egy vén kuvik kiront.

Tízen vagyunk: ez a gyülekezet,
a tizenegyedik maga a pap,
de énekelünk mi százak helyett,
hogy hull belé a por s a vakolat,

a hiúban a denevér riad
s egy-egy szúvas gerenda meglazul:
tizenegyedikünk az árva pap,
tizenkettedikünk maga az Úr.

Így énekelünk mi, pár megmaradt
- azt bünteti, akit szeret az Úr -,
s velünk dalolnak a padló alatt,
kiket kiirtott az idő gazul.

In Marosszentimre Church

As crumbling plaster falls upon our heads,
Thus we the praises of dear Zion sing:
Beneath the pews mice scurry from their nests,
An ancient company of owls take wing.

We in the congregation number ten,
Eleven if we reckon in the priest,
But when we sing, we sound a hundred men.
Down pour the plaster and the dust;

The bats are startled in their attic roost;
Worm-eaten rafters weakened even more.
Eleventh is our solitary priest,
The twelfth among us is the Lord himself.

And so we sing, the few that still remain
—The Lord exacts a price from him that loves—
And those whom wicked time from us has ta’en
Join in our psalmody beneath the floor.

On its most simple level, this poem expressed what is an ever-growing problem of abandoned churches in Transylavania. In several areas of Transylvania, Hungarian population has drastically decreased in a process which had speeded up since the middle of the 19th century. After the Treaty of Trianon (1920), when Hungary ceded Transylvania to Romania, this process reached a dramatic scale, especially in southern Transylvania (the area around Gyulafehérvár cathedral, on which see my earlier post). In a place like Marosszentimre, where my grandfather could write about a Calvinist congregation of ten people, today there is practically no Hungarian congregation. Unlike Hungarians, the Romanian population is Eastern Orthodox, and they have built their own new churches in Marosszentimre and similar places. As a result, there are a number of virtually abandoned medieval churches throughout Transylvania. Managed by the Hungarian Catholic or Calvinist churches, sometimes there is no money for even the most basic maintenance of these structures, and with no locals to carry out simple repairs, many of these churches are virtually on the brink of collapse. The Romanian government or its monument protection agency similarly pays little attention to these places.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Virtual visits to Transylvanian medieval churches

Gelence (Ghelinta)

A new website provides a number of very-well done virtual visits (360
° panoramas) to Transylvanian sites. The site, called Treasures of Szeklerland introduces monuments and sites from the eastern part of Transylvania, the territory of the Szeklers. Several of the medieval churches on the site contain important fresco cycles - including some of my favorites. 

These are all small village churches, and in most cases the 14th century decoration of the naves survives. The cycles occupy the uninterrupted north wall of these churches, painted in several rows. Generally the upper row on the north wall is dedicated to the legend of King Saint Ladislas (ruled 1077-1095), more specifically the story where he frees a Hungarian girl abducted by the invading Cuman warriors.

Other cycles generally include the Passion of Christ, and often the Last Judgment. On the Treasures of Szeklerland website, some of the most important such cycles can be studied. I cannot provide direct links to different parts of the flash-based site, but upon starting, you will land inside the church at Gelence (Ghelinta). I also recommend the virtual visit of the following churches: Bögöz (Mugeni), Székelyderzs (Dirjiu, with frescoes from 1419), and Kilyén (Chilieni). Csíkrákos (Racu) has fewer frescoes, but here the entire western tower is decorated, probably from the 16th century. The Apor-mansion at Torja (Turia) preserved interesting secular painting from the mid-17th century. Inside the (virtual) churches, be sure to look up at the 17th-18th century painted coffered ceilings! A great advantage of the website is that it provides succinct information on the sites in English (as well as in Hungarian and Romanian).

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Conference on medieval ecclesiastical architecture in Transylvania

The monastery church of Ákos (Acâş),
the most important Romanesque monument
 of Szatmár County
This coming weekend, on October 8-10, 2010, an international conference will be dedicated to medieval ecclesiastical architecture in Transylvania. Jointly organized by the County Museum of Satu Mare (Romania) and the Museums of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County (Hungary), the conference will be held at Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare). Speakers will include noted archaeologists, art and architectural historians both from Romania and Hungary. Topics include mainly Romanesque and Gothic church buildings and medieval wall-paintings. I uploaded the program of the conference, you can read it by following this link.

The present conference is the 7th in a series started in 1997. This long tradition and the international nature of the conference makes it one of the most important forums to present new research on medieval art in Transylvania. Another important factor is that the conference papers are published in bilingual (sometimes tri-lingual) publications. So far, four volumes have been published, and volume V is currently in preparation.

You can reach these books, and many other publications of the County Museum of Satu Mare on a website they dedicated to monuments of the county.

Here are the direct links to the individual volumes:
Volume II (2002)
Volume III (2004)
Volume IV (2007)
(Volume I is not available on the website, but you can find the contents of it in the database of the Regesta Imperii Opac).

Finally, if you would like to know more about the monastery church of Ákos (pictured above), visit the database of architectural monuments on the same website. All information is available in English, Hungarian and Romanian.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

1000 years of Gyulafehérvár Cathedral

Western facade of Gyulafehérvár cathedral
Survey by Márton Sarkadi and Tamás Emődi, 1996 
In 1009, King Stephen I decided to create a new bishopric, with jurisdiction over the territory of Transylvania. The seat of the bishopric was established at Gyulafehérvár (Karlsburg, Alba Iulia) and the first cathedral, dedicated to Saint Michael, was erected during the 11th century. The first cathedral was replaced with a much larger Romanesque cathedral, construction of which started at the end of the 12th century, and was for the most part completed before the Mongol invasion of 1241. At that time the town and the church was sacked and burned. Just as soon as repairs were made, the Saxons of nearby Szeben (Hermannstadt, Sibiu) sacked the town again in 1277. Two very important contracts dating from 1287 an 1291 detail the repairs undertaken at this time, with the latter date indicating completion of the entire edifice. These dates at the same time also underline the significance of this building: apart from smaller expansion and the addition of chapels, the building as it stands today originates from the 13th century. This makes Gyulafehérvár the only cathedral building to have survived from the Árpád-period - well, in fact, from the Middle Ages at all. (Other cathedral cities - including Esztergom, Kalocsa, Pécs, Veszpém, Győr, Vác, Eger, Várad - were in the territories occupied by the Ottoman Turks. To get an idea of their fate, see my previous post on the destruction of the centers of medieval Hungary).

The main body of the church is that of the Romanesque building, although the western part of the nave was vaulted in the 14th century. The two side apses, opening from the transept, are also from this period, while the original main apse has been replaced with a much longer early Gothic apse, built during the 1270s. Chapels on the north side (Lázói and Várdai chapels) originate from the early 16th century, and the monumental south tower also dates from the Gothic period. The building has suffered more during the last few centuries than it could be summarized here (significant dates of damage include 1438, 1565, 1601, 1603, 1658, 1849) - yet it still stands today and serves as the center of the Hungarian catholic church in Romania.

The building underwent major renovation at the beginning of the 20th century. The work, which was led by István Möller, was not fully completed by 1918, when Gyulafehérvár became part of Romania. More recently, several campaigns of restoration have been carried out during the last fifteen years, in preparation for the millennial celebrations of the bishopric. During this period, a large amount of archaeological and art historical research was carried out, the results of which are now largely published.
In this post, I would like to call attention to these publications.

Monday, August 09, 2010

New research on medieval wall-painting

The number of medieval wall-paintings known from the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary has greatly increased. In Transylvania, a complex program of inventorization uncovered numerous monuments, many of which had been fully uncovered and restored during the last decade. In the north-eastern part of the Kingdom (which is now split between Slovakia, the Ukraine, Hungary and Romania) similarly a number of exceptional find have been made, and many key monuments have been fully restored. Thanks to these discoveries, in these regions we can better appreciate the regional characteristics of medieval wall-painting - thus several local workshops have been identified, and the chronology of many works has been clarified.
I had the pleasure of contributing to two large volumes presenting these discoveries. In both cases, I worked together with restorers. Both volumes were edited by Tibor Kollár, and photographed by Attila Mudrák. The first volume, published in 2008, was written together with Loránd Kiss, and it presents two dozen monuments from Transylvania. The second volume, published last year and written together with József Lángi, focuses on North-Eastern Hungary. The volume also includes an introductory study by Ernő Marosi.

Buy it at

Loránd Kiss - Zsombor Jékely: Középkori falképek Erdélyben. Ed. Tibor Kollár. Budapest, Teleki László Foundation, 2008. 363 pages, ISBN 978-963-7081-14-9