Showing posts with label renovation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label renovation. Show all posts

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.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Reconsecration of Pannonhalma Abbey Church

The medieval church of the Archabbey of Pannonhalma was restored over the last few months, and was solemnly reconsecrated today. The interior reconstruction of the 13th-century abbey church was carried out according to the plans of British architect, John Pawson. The reconstruction mainly focused on the main liturgical area of the church, the chancel and the monastic choir. The main goal of the alterations was to restore the simplicity of this space, and this meant the removal of the 19th century historicising decoration designed by Ferenc Storno (Storno similarly removed the earlier Baroque furnishing of the basilica, to make way for his own, 'historically correct' decorations - now his work suffered a similar fate). The Storno-reconstruction, which was completed in 1876, was the last major intervention inside the church. Storno's pulpit was moved to a chapel at Pannonhalma, while the 19th century stained glass windows - including the large rose window depicting the patron of the church, St. Martin - have been deposited at the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. On the other hand, the painted glass panes of the side aisle remained there, and the vault frescoes of Storno were cleaned.

The ideas of Pawson are summarized in the following statement he made:  ‘The goal of the architectural scheme made for the reconstruction of the Basilica of the Archabbey of Pannonhalma is to develop a space suitable for harmonic reception of the community of monks and their liturgy, meeting the needs of the local community and visitors. This goal was achieved by getting rid of several makeshift elements appearing in the use of space, and the character of “storage of historic furniture” was also eliminated. The purpose of the interventions was a uniform space in the church where each part and element of space has its own role and significance, and functionally and visually contributes to the development of the space designed for prayer and meditation, which are considered the basic function of the place. The plan attempts to redefine the space of the church structured axially, ascending within its section, orienting towards the sanctuary, and finally to the rose window in order to emphasize the meaning of the space: the way of Christians. On the one hand, the key is a complex and deliberate process of catharsis; on the other hand it is a careful equilibration of the existing historic layers.’

Pawson's scheme for the reconstruction (source:
The monks of Pannonhalma took notice of Pawson when he built the Cistercian abbey church of Novy Dvur in Bohemia, and he received the commission along with a Hungarian architectural studio. Along with the reconstruction of the church, this year also marks the completion of the rebuilding and expansion of visitor service areas at Pannonhalma. in 2010 a new visitors’ center was opened on the hilltop near the abbey. In 2011, a new entrance for visitors was opened on the bastion on top of the hill of the abbey.

The Benedictine Archabbey of Pannonhalma is one of the oldest historical monuments in Hungary, founded in 996. It is a World Heritage site. The present church of Pannonhalma was built in early Gothic style at the beginning of the 13th century during the reign of Abbot Uros, and was consecrated most likely in 1224.

You can read more about the reconstruction on the website of the Hungarian Presidency of the EU.

Photo showing the removal of the 19th century stained glass windows from the eastern wall of the church

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Exterior restoration of the Abbey Church of Lébény

Scaffolding at Lébény 
On my way to Vienna today (where my main goal was to see the exhibition on the medieval plans of the Stephansdom), I stopped at the Romanesque Abbey church of Lébény. Some alarming news emerged about the condition of the building in recent years, as photos on this Hungarian website also attest (click for 'more pictures'). Well, by now, work is well under way on the exterior restoration of the building, and almost the entire edifice is covered by a scaffolding. Heavy rain and wind prevented me to explore the building more closely, and there is also very little information available online on the ongoing restoration. Main tasks include a consolidation of the facades and the renovation of the roof of the edifice. They are also restoring the old parish building, with the intention of creating a new museum there. Work will go on throughout the summer.

Lébény, south portal 

The Benedictine Abbey of Lébény was officially founded in 1208, and it is believed that the church was  completed within a short time. Benedictine life went on with varied intensity during the Middle Ages, until the church was burned by Turkish troops in 1529, as they were marching towards the siege of Vienna. The vault of the nave was not even repaired until the Jesuits took over the church in 1631. Those knowing the history of the region will not be surprised to read that the Turkish army burned the church again in 1683, en route to another failed siege of Vienna. The building was again fixed up by the Jesuits, and finally underwent major renovation during the 1870s. 

The church of Lébény before 1872

Despite all these events, the church of Lébény can be regarded as one of the most intact Romanesque churches of Hungary. The fact that the church is still standing after 800 years is also due to those Italian stonemasons, who were sent there to dismantle the church at the time when the Ottoman Turks were advancing towards Győr. The stones of the monastery would have been needed to to repair the fortifications of Győr - but the masons did not carry out the job, saying the Lébény was the most beautiful church they have ever seen.

You can judge for yourself by looking at photographs at the following links:

Hungarian summary of the church's history from the catalogue of the Pannonhalma exhibition on Benedictines in medieval Hungary (click on "Fotó" at the bottom of the page)

Finally, here are some details of the stone carvings of the western portal seen from the lower levels of the scaffolding.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Research and renovation at Siklós castle

The medieval castle of Siklós reopened after years of research and renovation. The castle lies in southern Hungary (just south of Pécs). For much of the 15th century (until 1481), the castle and the large estate was in the property of the mighty Garai family - even king Sigismund was held captive here at the beginning of his Hungarian rule, in 1401. The general layout of the castle stems from this period, but it was enlarged and rebuilt in several later phases. Most significant of these campaigns was the addition of a large late Gothic sanctuary to the castle chapel, built in the second decade of the 16th century, at the time of the Perényi family. Although the castle was occupied by the Turks for almost 150 years, and was rebuilt after that in Baroque style, it still preserves a lot of significant medieval and Renaissance details (see these photos). A large new exhibition hall was created during this most recent reconstruction, which enable the display of these fragments.

The reconstruction was preceded by several years of archaeological and architectural research, which brought to light many interesting finds, including a previously unknown small and painted wall niche. I hope to report on these finds in more detail soon - I am planning a trip to Siklós some time soon, and maybe a guest post can be organized with one of the archaeologists. For now, here is a photo of one of the frescoes in the castle chapel, discovered during a previous restorations campaign in the 1950s.

St. Ladislas and St. Leonard - Fresco c. 1420, in the castle chapel of Siklós
Photo by Attila Mudrák 
Siklós of course preserves many other treasures. I would only like to mention the former Augustinian church standing in the vicinity of the castle, which was decorated with an extensive fresco cycle at the beginning of the 15th century, commissioned by the Garai family. I have written extensively on these frescoes elsewhere - you may want to look at this Hungarian-language article with and English summary. For even more information, you can have a look at my dissertation (especially if you are based at any American institution with UMI/Proquest access...).