Monastic and Mendicant Orders

By royal bequest, the Benedictine monasteries in Transdanubia and Upper Hungary received, from the start, a share of Transylvania's greatest natural treasure, salt, but they seldom reciprocated by sending monks to that region. Monasticism and its cultural influence were less in evidence in Transylvania than in other parts of the kingdom. Of the twelve Benedictine monasteries founded by royal fiat, only one was located in Transylvania, at Kolozsmonostor; another Benedictine monastery, at Meszes, was established by a prince. The Premonstratensian order had convents at Nagyszeben and Brassó, and the Cistercians a monastery at Kerc. Nor did the fashion for family monasteries catch on in {1-534.} Transylvania; the one clear example, at Gyerőmonostor, was already in ruins by the late 1200s. Harina may also have been a family monastery, and if Kraszna county is counted as part of Transylvania, then Ákos and Almás can be added to this list. As will be related in greater detail, monasticism and its mendicant variant were implanted late and haltingly in Transylvania. By the time the Saxons arrived, monasticism was on the decline throughout Europe, and they did not found any monastic institutions; indeed, the Saxons were so indifferent to this phenomenon that when the king bestowed on them the land and buildings of the nearby monastery at Kerc, they chose not to preserve its monastic function.

Monasticism was best represented in Transylvania by Kolozsmonostor. According to a charter issued by Béla IV, it had been founded by Béla I and endowed by King Ladislas (the Saint); however, in 1341, Queen Elisabeth claimed that the monastery had been founded by the latter. Recent excavation has unearthed the fragment of an arch (possibly the remnant of a round church) as well as coins from the time of Béla I and Romanesque stone figures. The monastery's original estate probably consisted of seven villages in the vicinity of Kolozsvár, most of which are noted in 13th-century charters. The monastery also acquired seven villages in Southern Transylvania, although these were the subjects of recurrent litigation with relatives of the aristocratic donors. These holdings gave the abbot of Kolozsmonostor the status of a lower-level Transylvanian aristocrat, but he was far less powerful than his rival, the bishop, who had come into possession of Gyalu. The bishop had no formal authority over the abbot; the two men engaged in recurrent — and not always voluntary — transfers of property and quarrelled openly. In 1220, Vilmos, the bishop of Transylvania, took over the monastery and had it torn down, destroyed the deeds of property, and had the abbot and his monks seized by the canon of Fehérvár. The monastery was rebuilt and pursued notarial activities {1-535.} while nurturing the Benedictine liturgy. A record of its library holdings, dating from 1427, lists fifty-four volumes; they mostly deal with liturgy, with not a single work on scholastic theology among them.

The monastery maintained excellent relations with the voivode and his deputy. Its notarial commissions came mainly from these officials, and only rarely from authorities in central Hungary. Most of the monks who performed notarial duties were educated members of Transylvanian noble families who had previously served as clerks to the deputy voivode or would do so later in life. The volume of notarial work grew to the point that in 1460, responsibility for this activity passed from the abbot to a lay governor. In 1518, Kolozsmonostor rallied to the Benedictine reform movement of Máté Tolnai, but this probably had little practical impact on the monastery, for there is no evidence that Abbot Tolnai sojourned there in the period leading up Battle of Mohács. Thus the main cultural contribution of this wealthy and well-staffed monastery lay in its legal and notarial activities.

It is impossible to assess the cultural impact of Transylvania's other Benedictine monastery, or of the Cistercian one at Kerc. The former, founded around 1120 by Prince Álmos, was located at the Transylvanian end of the Meszes Pass, and benefited from several royal grants that were confirmed in 1281 by Queen Elisabeth. The last reference to its abbot dates from 1288, and no physical trace has been found of the monastery. The Cistercian monastery was founded by King Imre around 1200; its ruins remain, but no record survives of its activities.

A more important cultural role was played by the Dominicans, Augustinians, and Franciscans, three preaching orders that were essentially town-based, being rooted in the struggle against urban heresies. In Hungary, the Christianization of the Cumanians was the work of Dominicans and of Franciscans, in the 13th and 14th centuries, respectively. Kings and popes charged these orders with converting {1-536.} Balkan Bogumils as well as the Greek Orthodox in Hungary and the Balkans. As noted, they served as the ideological allies of the ruling strata in the struggle against Hussites, and, as will be seen, they played a role in relation to the Romanians as well. Their primary activity, which was also the most important from the point of view of Hungarian and Saxon culture, was preaching in the vernacular; alas, only Latin versions of their sermons survive, and that, only from outside Transylvania. Yet there is no doubt that they propagated the Marian cult, which left a legacy in the visual arts, and drew for their sermons on a wealth of folk tales that encompassed European, Moslem, and Indian motifs. Elements of the latter were absorbed into the folk tales and poetry of Transylvania's peoples. The Franciscans were particularly assiduous nurturing the cult of Hungarian saints; traces of this survive in the many depictions of St. Ladislas found in churches around the Székelyföld, and in the popular legends concerning that saint.

The Dominicans were the first of these orders to appear in Transylvania. Two of their monasteries, at Szeben and at Beszterce, were established prior to the Mongol invasion, and those at Segesvár, Szászsebes, Brassó, Gyulafehérvár, and Alvinc probably also date from the 13th century, for they are mentioned in sources dating from 1298–1323. Their monasteries at Kolozsvár and Udvarhely were founded in 1397 and 1524, respectively. The former became a major cultural force; its splendid Gothic library still stands. A library also survives from the Dominican college, the studium generale, founded in 1525 at Szeben; the institution was short-lived, for the Reformation had an early impact on the town. Another important Dominican library, that in Brassó, was destroyed by fire in the 17th century; the record of its holdings, over one hundred titles, offers a glimpse of the Transylvanian Dominicans' spiritual world, which was rooted in scholastic theology and manifested in preaching. That also applies to Franciscans and Augustinians, with the difference that these orders were less {1-537.} tied to the large towns, and more disposed to settle in rural market-centres, including Hungarian-inhabited towns — unlike the Dominicans, who preached mainly to the Saxons.

The Franciscans came to Transylvania only in the aftermath of the Mongol invasion; the first mention of their monastery at Beszterce dates from 1268. Their other monasteries, in Szászváros, Szeben, and Marosvásárhely were probably founded soon afterwards, and are noted in sources dating from 1300–16; a Franciscan school was established at Szászváros in the 14th century. The second phase of Franciscan expansion, in the early 1400s, saw the foundation of monasteries at Marosfelfalu, Fehéregyháza, Csíksomlyó, and Tövis — the latter two with the support of János Hunyadi, a noted patron of the Franciscans. Hunyadi also promoted the settlement in Transylvania of a more ascetic and resourceful branch of the Franciscans, the 'Observants', or 'Cseri friars', who had been active earlier in Southern Hungary. Their monastery at Hátszeg was founded some time before 1428, and in 1448 they created a monastic province separate from that of the 'Conventual' Franciscans. They then took over the above-noted four monasteries, which had been founded in the 15th century. Additional monasteries were provided for them by János Hunyadi at Vajdahunyad, and, in 1486, by King Matthias at Kolozsvár. In the early 1500s, the 'Observants' extended their activity to Medgyes and Brassó, in the Saxon region, and even to Bákó (Bacău) in Moldavia and Tergovistye (Tîrgovişte) in Wallachia. Some 'Observant' Franciscans supported the peasant rebellion of 1514; their Transylvanian provincial, András Dézsi, helped to recruit the crusaders. The Augustinians, for their part, had monasteries at Gyulafehérvár, Dés, and Torda.

The Dominican and Franciscan nuns and the Beguine sisterhood also deserve attention. The first convents were established in the 14th century (Szászváros, 1334), and at the end of the 15th century they rivalled monasteries in number. There were Dominican {1-538.} nuns in Brassó, Beszterce, Kolozsvár, Segesvár, and Szeben, and Beguines in Szeben, Brassó, Marosvásárhely, Kolozsvár, Tövis, Beszterce, Csíksomlyó, Fehéregyháza, Marosfelfalu, and Medgyes. Nuns and Beguines played an indirect but important role in the cultivation of the mother tongue, for they did not learn Latin, and thus had to have their devotional material translated by monks into the vernacular, with additional copies sometimes made by the nuns themselves. There are records of nuns in Transylvania who specialized in such transcription, and a number the nuns' Hungarian-language codices survive, all dating from the early 16th century. One of them, known as the 'Teleki codex', was written by Franciscan friars for their 'sisters of the third order', the Beguines of Marosvásárhely, who produced some additional copies; the work presented, in Hungarian translation, lives of the saints and the latter's meditations. A similar work, the 'Lázár codex' from Marosvásárhely, was drafted for the edification of a certain szesztra (Sister) Katalin. The 'Székelyudvarhely codex' was written in 1526 by a Franciscan educated in Cracow, András Nyújtódi, 'out of fraternal affection for his sister', a certain szesztra Judit in Tövis; it contains a Hungarian translation of the Biblical book of Judith.

The value of these late codices is all the greater since no trace remains of earlier religious works, even in Latin, by Transylvania's monks. Of the manuscripts produced by monastic orders in Hungary prior to 1350, forty-two have survived, but none of them originated in Transylvania. From 1350 onward, Transylvanian monasteries rapidly increased their collections of codices, as did the worldly clergy, especially the bishops, canons, and archdeacons. Of these collections, over four hundred items, dating from before 1526, survive; to be sure, only some were produced in Transylvania, and very few are actually the work of Transylvanian authors. The codex that once belonged to Bishop Domokos Kálmáncsehi is an Italian masterpiece. (The 100-volume collection of another bishop, the humanist Ferenc Várday, included many similar {1-539.} Italian works.) A breviary, copied by a Franciscan friar at Marosvásárhely in 1522, is one of the few surviving items that can be positively attributed to a Transylvanian source.