Showing posts with label heritage protection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label heritage protection. Show all posts

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Heritage in Danger - A Medieval Copy of the Navicella in Transylvania

Kiszsolna, the church around 2010
In last week's post, I already called attention to the precarious state of medieval churches in Transylvania, especially in the areas previously inhabited by Transylvanian Saxons. Among these areas is the vicinity of Beszterce / Bistritz / Bistrița in Northern Transylvania and also the northern part of the Transylvanian Plain. In many villages here, the German population left Transylvania at the time of the Soviet advance during World War II in 1944, and they never returned. After this, the churches lost their former function and the communities which had maintained them. Although the Orthodox church took over most of the abandoned buildings, the new occupants of these villages often did not take over the churches, but rather built new ones. After decades of neglect, there are now a large number of medieval churches in the area around Beszterce in the final stages of their existence. Vermes (Wermesch, Vermeș) and Sajómagyarós (Ungersdorf, Șieu-Măgheruș, in the Transylvanian Plain) are just two examples of buildings with collapsed roofs. 

At a conference last week, a new research project was announced, aimed at surveying, documenting and studying the churches of Central and Northern Transylvania - the area of the Mezőség especially, but also the region of Beszterce. The research project is coordinated by the István Möller Foundation, and a number of buildings were already surveyed and documented. In several places, restorers also surveyed the walls of the churches, looking for medieval wall paintings, which have not yet been uncovered in these churches.

The most interesting announcement at the conference was made by one of the art historians involved in the project, Szilárd Papp. It concerns the wall paintings of the church of Kiszsolna (Senndorf, Jelna), located near Beszterce. The frescoes have been known for some time, but their true significance was only revealed now - perhaps finally prompting the authorities to action. Some time ago, the roof of the church collapsed, leading to quick decay (even the vault of the nave collapsed). Thanks to weather damage, the plaster peeled off from the walls, revealing frescoes beneath. These were documented, and some details - especially intact heads of figures - were removed and transported to the Bistriţa - Năsăud County Museum back in 2007. A few articles - including a Hungarian-language overview of the church and an English-language study on medieval frescoes of the region - called attention to the find, but to this date, not much has been done to actually save them.

Fresco fragments in the church of Kiszsolna (photo: Kinga German)
The most interesting frescoes are on the north wall of the sanctuary. One scene, in particular, is of great importance: it depicts the Navicella, based on the famous mosaic of Giotto once in the atrium of Old St. Peter's basilica in Rome. This celebrated mosaic is known from a number of later copies. In monumental form, the earliest copy dates from the 1320s, and is in Strasbourg - other 14th century painted copies are in the Spanish Chapel of Santa Maria Novella in Florence as well as in Pistoia. Dating from the third quarter of the 14th century, the fresco at Kiszsolna is the fourth known painted copy of the Navicella from that century in all of Europe. It would be very important to fully uncover and restore it, along with all the other frescoes of the church - the ensemble could likely contribute to the studies of Italian Trecento painting, and thus is not only of a local significance. For decades, we have watched the decay of this - and many other - churches: it is now time to act, before these works of art are completely destroyed. Kiszsolna demonstrates, that even a modest village church can preserve unique and important works of art - it shows that this region of Transylvania still preserves a lot more worth saving and studying.

Fragments of the Navicella at Kiszsolna (note the mast of the ship on top)

Parri Spinelli's drawing of the Navicella, c. 1420 (Metropolitan Museum)
Kiszsolna, a few decades ago
The frescoes these days (Photo: Attila Mudrák)

A fragment of the Navicella scene, now at the Museum of Bistrița
The conference of the István Möller Foundation created quite a stir in the Hungarian press, see this article in Népszabadság, for example. The ruins of the church cannot survive another winter - spread the news, help save the frescoes!
Photos by Szilárd Papp, Kinga German and Attila Mudrák.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Heritage in Danger - Saxon Fortified Churches in Transylvania

 88 year of Erwin looking at the destruction at the church of Rotbach/Rotbav
Photo: Inquam Photos / Attila Szabó / Facebook
Despite being on the Unesco World Heritage list and despite funding from various European projects, recent dramatic events have called attention to the fact that the Saxon fortified churches in Transylvania are in real danger. This is very often the case with historic monuments without communities supporting them. The Saxons (Germans) of Transylvania - who originally settled there in the 12th-13th centuries - have largely disappeared during the 1980, due to the policies of Ceausescu - have left behind a unique built heritage from the late Middle Ages. Not only the Saxon towns of Transylvania - such as Hermannstadt / Sibiu / Nagyszeben or Schässburg/Sighisoara/Segesvár - but small villages as well preserve large medieval churches, surrounded by walls and towers. Many of the buildings date originally from the 13th century, and most were enlarged and fortified during the 15th-16th centuries. The churches also preserved their wall paintings (usually under layers of whitewash) and much of their medieval liturgical furnishings, including altarpieces, baptismal fonts, and goldsmith works. As a result, southern Transylvania is one of the richest and most dense regions of medieval village church art in all of Europe. It is a common European task to preserve this rich and unique heritage.

Most of the churches are now not in use. Their treasures have been transported to the bigger churches of the region, and their maintenance is not duly carried out. Many stories are known of valuable furnishing stolen from the churches, or damaged. In fact, several of the buildings themselves are in danger of collapsing. Here are two recent examples:

Radeln/Roadeș/Rádos, tower

1. On February 14th, 2016, the late medieval tower of the fortified church of Radeln/Roadeș/Rádos partially collapsed. There is an imminent danger that the tower may collapse entirely, likely damaging the church itself. The church had most recently been in the news in 1998, when panels of its late Gothic altarpiece were stolen. Luckily, the damaged panels were recovered a few years later, and the altarpiece now stands in one of the churches of Hermannstadt/Sibiu. Most recently, it was reported that medieval frescoes - most likely painted by the workshop of the Székelyderzs/Dirjiu master, and thus dating from around 1420 - were found under the plaster on the walls (see on the right). No doubt, the church still holds many treasures and has to be saved. 

Several foundations took up the task of preserving the church - Wikipedia reports on the Peter Maffay Stiftung, among others - but apparently not much has been done to actually structurally protect the building.

2. On February 19th, 2016, one of the most monumental church towers in southern Transylvania, the tower of Rotbach/Rotbav/Szászveresmart collapsed entirely. The tower had been an important sight on the road towards Kronstadt/Brasov/Brassó. It dates from the Middle Ages, although it had been enlarged and rebuilt in later centuries. It was reported that at 9 PM, the bell was only struck twice, and then the entire tower collapsed, burying part of the nave under the rubble. I am not aware of any reports about the state of the tower prior to the collapse - it is not clear when the building was last surveyed. But in any case, a significant landmark was lost forever, an the fate of the remaining church building is uncertain at best.

Rotbach/Rotbav/Szászveresmart - Before and after

Rotbach/Rotbav/Szászveresmart - Bell under the rubble
3. ? - The above two are not the only medieval churches in danger in Transylvania. On this page, you can see a selection of photos of similarly important monuments. I have already reported on abandoned churches in Transylvania, and my next post will also be on an important find inside an abandoned church. Please share this post, share these news - help put pressure on the government of Romania to take the task of monuments protection seriously. So far, even when EU-funds have been used for restoration, the results were almost as catastrophic as the results of neglect - see this detailed report. So for now, it remains to be seen how far the emergency funds announced by Cultural Minister Vlad Alexandrescu will go.

Ministerul Culturii propune constituirea „Fondului de urgență pentru patrimoniu”Reprezentanți ai Ministerul Culturii...
Posted by Vlad Alexandrescu on Sunday, February 21, 2016

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Changes in Heritage Protection

As of last week, Judit Tamási replaced Tamás Mezős as President of the National Office of Cultural Heritage. This office is in charge of all monument protection, including research, inventary, building permits and actual construction, see
Here is the official statement, in Hungarian:

Also of great significance that archaeological excavations will be regulated differently. Instead of the much-criticized organization, KÖSZ (Heritage service), once again only national and county museums will be allowed to carry out such digs.  KÖSZ will be integrated into the Hungarian National Museum, see: