The Romanesque Style in Transylvania

In architecture and art, as in other spheres of culture, Transylvania followed the Hungarian model. The region suffered less physical damage in the Ottoman era, and thus harbours more medieval architectural relics than most other parts of the country. The styles that prevailed differ little from those in the rest of the Kingdom of Hungary; some were adopted to a greater extent than others, and there emerged a certain differentiation that coincided with the socio-ethnic map, giving a distinctive stylistic character to Hungarian, Saxon, and Romanian districts in the counties, as well as to the Székelyföld and Szászföld. Apart from the Székely and Saxon churches that were fortified against the Ottomans, Transylvania's architecture is marked by a profound conservatism. Stylistic tendencies were more resistant to change than in Western {1-548.} Europe, or, indeed, than in the rest of Hungary. The many churches erected by parishes and monastic orders in the Middle Ages were not well adapted to the needs of Protestant rites, yet they survived the Reformation unscathed.

Thus, while Transylvania holds few outstanding monuments, it became a veritable museum of Hungarian medieval architecture. The bishopric encompassed a vast area but required substantial buildings only at the episcopal seat. Prior to the arrival of the mendicants, the religious orders erected only a few monasteries in Transylvania, and nothing is known about the style and shape of the original royal monasteries at Meszes and Kolozsmonostor. The lay aristocracy's estates were less prosperous and more dispersed than in the rest of Hungary, and their buildings were commensurately more modest. The records show 28 familial monasteries in Transdanubia, 32 on the Great Plain, and 15 in Upper Hungary, but only four in Transylvania.

Still, the oldest surviving cathedral building of Hungary is found at the episcopal seat of Gyulafehérvár. The present church is not the original structure, which, judging from excavations, was modelled on the triple-aisled basilica of St. Stephen at Székesfehérvár and had an adjoining round chapel or baptistry dating from the 10th–11th centuries. These buildings were torn down in the late 1100s, when construction started on the present cathedral. It was designed in the late French Romanesque style favoured by the royal court, as a triple-aisled basilica, with a transept and a wide arched choir; the cathedral's facade bears some similarity to that of familial monasteries, and is topped by two spires. The builders incorporated a few carved stones from the earlier, 11th century church. The damage wrought by the Mongols was repaired by stonemasons who had worked on the famous chapel at Ják; the polygonal, early Gothic chancel was built some time after 1270. The cathedral suffered more damage in 1277, when Saxon insurgents, led by Gyán of Vizakna, put it to the torch. Jean de Saint Dié {1-549.} participated in the restoration, which began in 1287; four years later, Transylvanian Saxon carpenters erected a new roof. The cathedral, with its subsequently added Gothic and Renaissance chapels and carvings, reflects a succession of Hungarian architectural and sculptural styles. It contributed to the dissemination of these styles in Transylvania, where Hungarian and Saxon churches bear its imprint.

Still within the confines of the Transylvanian bishopric, in the Kraszna county village of Ákos, stands the church of the eponymous family's monastery; built, around 1150, in pure Romanesque stye, it a has a nave flanked by aisles, an apsidal chancel, and twin towers. A church of similar, but somewhat simpler style was erected around 1200 at Harina, probably by Simon Kacsics, one of the first great landowners to move to Transylvania from Hungary proper; it was designed to serve as a family monastery, but Kacsics got involved in a plot to assassinate Queen Gertrud, and he lost his estates, including Harina, which was acquired by Transylvania's bishop. A charter from 1238 attributes the monastery at Almás to the Borsa clan; judging by a fragment from the Romanesque frame of a tower window, the church may date back to the 12th century, and it may have been built by the Borsa family. Another of the original settling clans, the Mikola family, came somewhat later (though still before the Mongol invasion) in following the fashion for family monasteries. The church at Gyerőmonostor, which bears the name of one of the clan's branches, is notable for its nobles' gallery, twin towers, and decorative sculptures; like other early churches, Hungarian and Székely, in Transylvania, it has a single nave, without aisles.

Given the absence of documentation, it is impossible to determine when the earliest stone churches — apart from the episcopal and monastic edifices noted above — were erected in Transylvania. Although it is likely that, by the 11th century, the royal county seats had stone churches, there is neither archival nor archaeological evidence {1-550.} of such a church at the oldest seats, in Doboka, Kolozs, and Torda. If the castle excavated at Malomfalva was, as is supposed, the seat of Uzd county, then the style of its church may be typical of such edifices at other county seats; it had a nave without aisles and an apsidal chancel divided off by a rounded arch. The church at Küküllővár, built around 1200, was a more elaborate structure. With its single nave, apsidal chancel, and twin spires, it resembled the church at Gyerőmonostor; its Romanesque windows followed the model of some churches in other parts of Hungary, notably at Egregy and Csaroda. After the Mongols had come and gone, Küküllővár's church was expanded by the addition of aisles, and its twin spires were combined in a huge tower that dominated the western facade. The 'hilltop church' at Segesvár underwent a similar transformation. The comitatus of Segesvár was formed after the dissolution of Fehér county, possibly prior to the Mongol invasion. The first mention of its castle (castrum Sex) dates from 1280; by 1298, it had acquired a German name, Schespurch, but there are references to 'comitatus Segusvar' as late as 1339. The king probably donated this centre to German settlers when the Székelys of Kézd moved to the Aranyosszék district, but it became a royal free town only in 1367, at which point it acquired jurisdiction over the neighbouring Saxon villages. This is how the Saxon seat of Segesvár, the latest and last of the Saxons' autonomous districts, came to be established, and its history is mirrored by that of the 'hilltop church'. The first church on the site was a typical Hungarian (Székely) edifice, with a single nave and an apsidal chancel, and it remains as the undercroft of the later basilica, which had aisles and a broad tower in its western facade. In the 14th century, the basilica was converted into a Gothic hall church. The triple-aisled church at Küküllővár may also be the work of Saxons, but Küküllő county did not become a Saxon seat; thus Küküllővár remained the administrative centre of a county whose Saxon inhabitants, like the Hungarian peasants, became villeins.

{1-551.} The remodelling of the churches at Küküllővár and Segesvár into triple-aisled edifices is linked to the northward expansion of Saxon settlement after the Mongol invasion. With the exception of Gyulafehérvár Cathedral and of the monastic churches, triple-aisled churches were built by Saxons for Saxons. The same type of church is found even in Saxon localities that are outside the main areas of Saxon settlement, at Boroskrakkó, Tövis, and Déva, which lie in predominantly Hungarian districts. These are, in Southern Transylvania, the most westerly occurrences of aisled churches, and, together with Küküllővár and Segesvár, the most northerly as well; the triple-aisled churches of Homoróddaróc and Földvár are the most easterly examples. Only single-nave churches are found north and east of this line.

Transylvania's Romanesque, single-nave {1-552.} parish churches are identical to those built prior to the Mongol invasion in other parts of Hungary, and they can be identified with the region's Hungarians and Székelys. Although some must have been raised before the Saxon settlement, the present state of research does not allow any of these village churches to be dated farther back than the end of the 12th century. One reason is that there has been little archaeological investigation of the cemeteries located — on King Ladislas's orders — next to the churches. Moreover, even those 11th–12th century churchyards that have been excavated cannot be linked conclusively in terms of chronology to the adjoining churches, for the most of the latter were rebuilt after the ravages of the Mongol invasion, generally in the shape of the original. Future research may allow the origins of stone churches to be dated farther back than 1200; until then, it can merely be assumed that at least some of them were preceded by churches constructed of wood or wattle-and-daub, the positive detection of which lies beyond the capacity of today's archaeologists.

There are nevertheless some clues to chronology. The most significant of these is the shape of the chancel in the single-nave parish churches. The apsidal chancels came first; the oblong shape appeared around the time of the Mongol invasion. The dating is complicated by the fact that in some churches, notably at Domokos and Kide, the original apsidal chancel was reconstructed in oblong form. This would indicate that the church dated from before the Mongol invasion, were it not for evidence that some of the brand new churches dating from after the event were given, out of sheer stylistic conservatism, an apsidal chancel. With that caveat, it can still be concluded that the majority of parish churches with apsidal chancels date from before the Mongol invasion. It follows that, like the toponyms, the distribution of these churches indicate the extent of areas that had a Hungarian or Székely population prior to 1241. Further clues to dating are given by identifiable, Romanesque fragments (carvings, capitals, portals, window-frames) from churches that were destroyed and subsequently reconstructed in the Gothic style. An outstanding example is the late 12th-century Romanesque, southern portal of the Gothic church at Marosszent-imre. Its rose window includes not only the characteristic motifs of that period's high art, but also, for the first time, elements of contemporary folk art, and thus reveals the criteria for the decoration of village churches. Similar, early decorative fragments date the ruined church at Baca and Bonchida's church, which was considerably transformed after the Mongol invasion.

The earliest Transylvanian Hungarian (and Székely) village churches were small, single-nave edifices, with an apsidal chancel separated from the nave by a rounded arch. The windows, one of which was in the middle of the apse, were narrow, with rounded arches. Some of the churches had a patron's gallery, on rounded arches, situated along the western wall. Most of the churches dating from before the Mongol invasion lacked a tower; in the exceptional cases, e.g. at Tompaháza, the spire was built over this gallery. The entrance porch, below the gallery, had decorative carvings. Capitals and corbels inside the church bore modest ornamentation. {1-553.} The more ambitious patrons may well have commissioned frescoes, for the latter can be found at churches in Hungary proper, but no traces of frescoes survive in Transylvanian churches dating from the 13th century.

The early type of parish church, with single nave and apsidal chancel can be found — whether in the original shape, rebuilt, or in ruin — in almost all Hungarian-inhabited areas, and most of these can be dated on archaeological or documentary evidence to before the Mongol invasion. The northernmost occurrences are at Domokos, in the Lápos valley, and along the Nagy-Szamos River at Baca and Csicsókeresztúr. On the lower Kis-Szamos, in the area settled by the Hungarian clans, the best-preserved example is at Szentbenedek; the churches at Szásznyíres, Cege, Szarvaskend, and Bonchida suffered minor modifications, while a description survives of the church at Alsózsuk. In the Kolozsvár-Kalotaszeg district, the Mikola clan's five villages (Szamosfalva, Magyarkiskapus, Derite, Kalotaszentkirály, and Magyarókereke) each have a church with a rounded apse, as do Kajántó and Magyarsárd. The early style is found on county land in the Maros and Aranyos valleys, at Marosfelfalu, Abafája, Mészkő, Tompaháza, Magyarpéterfalva, Marosszentimre, and Bokaj. In the Székely seats, all but two of the churches are on the same pattern: Marosszentkirály (the only one with a spire), Harcó, Marosszentanna, Marosszentgyörgy, Nyomát, Székelyvaja, Várhegy, Karácsonfalva, Homoródszentmárton, Bibarcfalva, Oklánd, Szentlélek, Felsőboldogfalva, Bögöz, Réty, Gidófalva, Árkos, Miklósvár, Gelence, Gyergyóalfalu, Csíksomlyó, Csíkrákos, Csíkszentdomokos, and Csíkszentkirály. Quatrefoil-plan churches, which are common in Hungary proper, occur in Transylvania at Algyógy, in the west, and at Székelyudvarhely and Gyergyószentmiklós in the east.

The early churches are most numerous in the area between the Kis- and Nagy-Szamos, along the Maros, and in the Székelyföld. They are, however, noticeably less common in an area favoured by {1-554.} the original Hungarian settlers, the Mezőség, which lies between the Szamos and Maros rivers, as well as in the Nagy-Küküllő valley. Apparently, the Mezőség was slow to recover from the ravages inflicted by the Mongols. As for the Nagy-Küküllő valley, most Székelys left the district after the Mongol invasion to resettle in the Aranyosszék and, perhaps, also in the eastern seats; their former lands were occupied by Saxons, who in the 14th century erected Gothic churches. The history of the churches at Küküllővár and Segesvár has already been noted, and archaeologists will perhaps uncover the traces of other single-nave churches in the formerly Székely-inhabited area.

Reconstruction after the Mongol invasion introduced a new style: the apse was no longer rounded, but squared. Traces of the original rounded apse have been found at a few locations, such as Kide and Domokos, and others may await discovery. In some cases, the application of the new style may conceal the earlier origin of the church, but many entirely new churches were erected. The latter were distinguished not only by the squared apse, but also by the spire raised over the gallery. In a period marked by the threat of Mongol incursions and internal anarchy, these towers also served defensive purposes. Concurrently, towers were built all over Transylvania, by the king and by private individuals, to serve as fortified residences; typical examples include the round tower at Sebesvár and the square towers at Radna and Kelnek. There must have been many more than those that survive, for in 1291 King Andrew III decreed that 'any towers or fortifications built with hostile intent onto churches or in any other place must be torn down.'[25]25. Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen, I, p. 174. By then, the threat of civil war was more immediate than that of the Mongols, and the king wanted to deprive his opponents of potential strongholds. His instructions were not carried out in all places, but private initiative also played a part in the destruction, and many a church tower must have been pulled down.

{1-555.} Another characteristic feature of churches built after the Mongol invasion was a greater wealth of decorative stone-carvings. Within the general area where Hungarian churches are found, two workshops are definitely known to have operated, both around Kolozsvár. One of them was probably linked in 1250 to Kolozsmonostor. Fragments of capitals from the onetime churches at Magyarszentpál and Kolozs, and of the baptismal font from Szamosfalva, reveal that this workshop applied geometric motifs in Benedictine, late Romanesque, or Norman style; these were probably passed on by Ják's master craftsmen, some of whom worked on the cathedral at Gyulafehérvár. The other workshop, located in the town of Kolozsvár, was commissioned by the bishop of Transylvania, Péter Monoszló, sometime between 1270 and 1330 to create the portal of the church at Vista, which had a square-backed chancel. The same craftsmen decorated the portal of the subsequently-reconstructed church at Magyarnagykapus, and are responsible for the carved fragments that remain from the Romanesque churches of Türe and Gyalu. These essentially Romanesque buildings were decorated with early Gothic motifs of realistic vine-leaves, bunches of grapes, and flowers.

In the second half of the 13th century, churches with square-backed chancels began to appear in the districts where earlier churches displayed rounded apses, and also farther to the northeast, in the Sajó valley. Churches distinguished by this new style of chancel were, or are located at Sajóudvarhely, Sajószentandrás, Magyarborzás, and Szászmáté; at Kozárvár, by the Nagy-Szamos River; along the Kis-Szamos at Alsó- and Felsőtök, Magyarderzse, Bádok (with an original Romanesque tower), Kecsed (now in ruins), Ormány, Néma, Ördöngösfűzes, Szásznyíres, and Botháza; in the vicinity of Kolozsvár, at Pata, Magyarfenes, Vista, Ketesd, Sárvár, Türe and Gyalu (where only fragments remain), and Magyarkapus (a portal); along the Aranyos, at Gerend (an outstanding example), Alsójára, Várfalva, and those, known only from {1-556.} documents, at Szarkad and Mezőörke; along the Maros, at Magyarrégen (ruin), Maroskoppánd, Marosnagylak (exceptional for its twin spires), Marosújvár (ruin), Enyedszentkirály, Alsóorbó, and Borbánd; and, finally, in Hunyad county, at Őraljaboldogfalva, Zeykfalva (with a western tower), and Malomvíz-Kolcvár (with a tower over the chancel), the last two being Greek Orthodox churches. Only two churches of this type were built in the Székelyföld, at Nyárádszentmárton and Ikafalva. In the aftermath of the Mongol invasion, the Hungarian fashion for single-nave churches left its mark on the fringes of the Saxon lands, at Récse, Rosszcsűr, Szászfehéregyháza, and Homoród.

Of the 89 Transylvanian Hungarian churches — with apsidal, quatrefoil, or square-ended chancels — noted above, only 41 figure in the papal tithe-list for 1333–37, a compilation that was supposed to include every locality with a Catholic church. On the other hand, the list includes many Hungarian Catholic churches that either no longer exist or were completely rebuilt. Moreover, many villages bore the name of their church's patron saint, and probably most of these boasted of a Romanesque church dating from the 13th century. Taking all this into consideration, the real number of 13th-century Romanesque churches must have been closer to twice the above figure, i.e. around two hundred. Indeed, even that figure probably does not fully reflect the proliferation of Romanesque churches in Hungarian villages during the 12th–13th centuries, for it does not take into account all the churches totally destroyed by the Mongols, nor those that were only rebuilt in the 14th century, in Gothic style.

Church-building in Hungarian villages was directed by the landowners and Székely notables. Similarly, the fifty-four Romanesque churches found in the Szászföld, between Szászváros and Brassó, were probably built on the initiative of the social elite, i.e. the gerébs. It is hardly likely that the first German settlers, who arrived in the mid-1100s, had brought along organized builders' {1-557.} workshops from their homeland. No doubt they soon raised churches, but these were probably simple, rudimentary edifices that, by the early 1200s, no longer satisfied the needs and tastes of a growing population. Although there is no archaeological trace of these original churches, several must have been standing by 1192, when the deanery of Nagyszeben was established.

According to an earlier hypothesis, it was the Teutonic Knights who, during their brief stay in the Barcaság, gave impetus to the building of more elaborate churches by the Saxons. However, the only building activity of the Order that is attested by archival and archaeological findings involves castles. Although the Knights only had permission to build wooden forts, they chose from the outset to build of stone, and this was one of the causes of their expulsion. The location and shape of their five castles can only be deduced from archaeological findings. The ruins of a rectangular fortress, with four corner turrets, at the Tatár Pass (near the locality of Slon, in what became Wallachia) are probably those of Kreutzburg, a Teutonic fort mentioned in documents. The remains of a rounded tower, unearthed near today's Rucăr, indicate a onetime castle of similar layout. Judging from its name and shape, Marienburg (Földvár) may have been a third castle of the Knights. Similarity in shape leads to the conclusion that Feketehalom may have been a fourth. The fifth of the Order's fortresses may be the citadel, with a triangular ground plan, located on Cenk Hill at Brassó, and later known as Brassovia. Both Földvár and Brassovia had chapels, the first with a square-ended, the second with an apsidal chancel. Since there are no grounds for attributing to the Order the construction of any village churches in the Barcaság (with the possible exception of Prázsmár's church, which was originally laid out in the shape of a Greek cross), it may be concluded that the Teutonic Knights were content to have chapels in their fortresses and, owing to the short duration of their stay in the Barcaság, did not initiate the building of churches in the villages under their control.

{1-558.} When they came to build churches, the Saxon settlers had to fend for themselves, and the only models close at hand were the churches of Hungary. The oldest of their churches is believed to be the one at Kisdisznód. Its owner, Gosselin, a royal chaplain of Walloon origin, donated it in 1223 to the monks at Kerc. Of considerable size and quality, the church is in the form of a triple-aisled basilica, with a rounded apse linked by a rectangular forecourt to the nave. The design called for twin spires, in the manner of Hungarian family monasteries, but these were never completed; the porch is adorned by skilfully carved orders of arches and flanked by blind arcades. On the evidence of the western, patron's gallery alone, it can be concluded that the Kisdisznód church was commissioned by a geréb family of Walloon origin — an ancestry that distinguished more than one of Transylvania's 'Saxons'; when the head of this family entered royal service, he gave up ownership of the estate. However, this edifice was not the prototype of Romanesque churches in the Saxon territories. To be sure, all of the Saxons' Romanesque churches — with the exception of those at Prázsmár, Récse, Rosszcsűr, Szászfehéregyháza, and Homoród — were triple-aisled basilicas, in which the nave had a flat, wooden ceiling, and the aisles, lower, barrel-vaulted ceilings. They were distinguished from the Kisdisznód church by a massive tower, built into the western facade, that held a patron's gallery overlooking the nave; this was the architectural solution generally adopted by German settlers in the East for locating the gallery. In Hungary, the layout is found only in Saxon churches, although in two of the latter, at Szászorbó and Szerdahely, a different solution was adopted: instead of the gallery forming part of the tower's inner wall, the tower rests on the pillars of the gallery, which was the Hungarian method. The patron's gallery is, in itself, evidence of the leading role played by gerébs in church-building. They participated in religious services from on high, distancing themselves from the commoners. The most typical tower-galleries are found at Nagysink, {1-559.} Morgonda, Brulya, Nádpatak, Homoróddaróc, Kaca, Földvár, and Kereszténysziget. The tower of the basilica at Vizakna is a unique exception: it rises over the chancel, in testimony to the exalted status of the Saxon gerébs.

The stylistic evolution of the chancel in Saxon churches followed the Hungarian pattern. While the earliest churches around Szeben (at Nagy- and Kisdisznód, Sellemberk, Nagycsűr, and Kereszténysziget) had rounded apses, there are some square-ended sanctuaries farther east, in the Nagysink seat (Nádpatak, Brulya, Morgonda), where the Saxon settlement came later. The Saxon churches' ornamented and arcuated portals follow different models. That of Kisdisznód is found at Nagydisznód, Boroskrakkó, Petres, Kaca, Nagysink, Felek, Oltszakadát, and Holcmány; the Ják portal is copied at Homoróddaróc, Szászsebes, Keresztényfalva, Kisprázsmár, and Ugra. The stylistic influence of Gyulafehérvár's portal is most clearly visible at Höltövény, but it touched, to varying degrees, all Saxon church-portals. The only Saxon church with a transept is the one at Kistorony; the inspiration probably came from Gyulafehérvár Cathedral. In sum, the plans and ornamentation of 13th-century Romanesque churches in the Szászföld followed the Hungarian pattern, the main exception being the tower-galleries projecting over the nave.