{1-567.} Romanian Greek-Orthodox Priests and Churches

Among Transylvania's Hungarians and indigenous Slavs, the Byzantine Christianity of the gyulas disappeared without trace during the reign of King St. Stephen. In the Middle Ages, Greek Orthodoxy remained the rite of Romanians, as well as of Russian, and, later, Serb immigrants, who eventually assimilated to the Romanians thanks largely to their shared religion. In the course of the formation of Romanian identity, ethnicity and religious faith became inextricably intertwined. As late as the mid-1900s, Greek Orthodox Romanians in Hunyad county would refer to the few remaining Romanian Calvinists in their neighbourhood as people 'under Hungarian law' (de lege ungurească), and to themselves as people 'under Romanian law' (de lege românească). Yet 'Romanian law' — ius valachicum in medieval charters — originally denoted the civil, and not the ecclesiastical code. According to a recently-published history of Romanian jurisprudence, this was 'a system of customary law, preserved by a disintegrating community, and which an alien, feudal state, in the midst of consolidation, acknowledged and applied among indigenous Romanians and those who settled farther afield'. In Galicia, Poland, Silesia, Moravia, and in the Slovak areas, in Serbia and Croatia it had the force of statute law; in Hungary (including Transylvania), it survived as 'an early feudal legal system [...], an ineradicable Romanian tradition [...], a form of local autonomy that conferred no privileges'. It was rooted in 'shepherds' customary law, which became identified as "Vlach law" in neighbouring countries where Romanians practised transhumance.'[26]26. I. Ceterchi, ed., Istoria dreptului românesc I (Bucharest, 1980), pp. 172, 183. Documentary sources shed light only on the exactions and concessions of the authorities: 'sheep fiftieths' (quinquagesima ovium), the tax generally imposed on Romanians in all countries, and the rights of the leaders (katunar, cnez) of Romanian settlements throughout East-Central Europe concerning, which touched on such matters as jurisdiction and the operation of mills.

{1-568.} Apart from Thessaly, the Transylvanian borderlands were the only place where several cnezships are known to have been combined into a single administrative unit. The Romanian border-guard districts in Hungary itself and beyond the Carpathians — in the Hátszeg, Fogaras, and Máramaros regions — were each governed by a high royal official bearing the title of voivode. In the mid-1300s, the voivodes of Hátszeg and Fogaras broke away and established a separate state within the Wallachian voivodeship and the associated province of Severin. The voivode of Máramaros and Moldavia was expelled by Bogdan, a rival from Máramaros; in compensation, his descendants, the Drágffy family, were allowed to retain the title of voivode of Máramaros until the end of the 14th century, when the region became a nobiliary county. The Catholic bishops of Transylvania and Várad also appointed voivodes over their Romanian cnezes who, of course, were answerable to their ecclesiastical landlords and not to the king. Where a voivodeship lapsed, jurisdiction over the Romanian cnezes passed to a 'cnezial court' (kenézi szék) chaired by the castellan, a Hungarian nobleman appointed by the king; the earliest known cnezial court — in 1360, at Hátszeg — was composed of twelve cnezes, six priests, and six Romanian commoners (olacus populanus). In the mid-1400s, 'Romanian law' was still being applied by the cnezial courts in Hunyad county, at Hátszeg, Déva, and Jófő.

Information is scarce on the cnezes' prerogatives in the settlements under their authority, but presumably they were essentially analogous to the Hungarian 'village smoke' (falu füstje), i.e. jurisdiction over non-capital offenses. Hungarian contemporaries regarded this authority as similar to that exercised by landowners over villeins; the members of the Hátszeg cnezial court in 1360 included both the cnez Longus Bazarab and a Romanian commoner, named Mihai, who is identified in the document as the former's villein (iobagio). Similarly, a document from 1389 mentions that two cnezes from the Egerszeg estate, in Temes county, were cum {1-569.} jobagionibus suis, i.e. with their villeins, although both of the cnezes were themselves the villeins of Hungarian noble landowners. It may be that the cnezes were entitled to services as well as fines from their subordinates, although, strictly speaking, the latter could not have been their villeins if both served side by side on cnezial courts. As noted, only the ennobled cnezes had seigniorial rights over Romanian commoners, and when they became integrated into the Hungarian county system, the cnezial courts ceased to exist. From that point, cnezes who had not been ennobled would rank with the feudally-dependent Hungarian village magistrate. Originally, and contrary to the opinion cited above, 'Romanian law' had been a privilege, the legal code of a semi-autonomous district similar to that of the Székelys and Saxons. Thus the main reason why the development of a Romanian 'nation' was held back is that the ennobled cnezes chose adhere to the nobles' nation.

The information about cnezial courts in the Hátszeg region also reveals that the Greek Orthodox Church was systematically associated with 'Romanian law', for the court had a fixed quota of priests. Many sources attest that Romanian priests generally came from cnezial families and enjoyed the attendant property rights. The Hunyad county village that now bears the name Keresztényalmás was already in existence in 1362, when it was the property of the 'comes' László, son of Musad; that year, László exercised his 'cnezial right' to establish a settlement at Zalasd. In 1387, his son János was both the owner of the village of Almás and its priest. Similarly, in Máramaros, on the northern fringe of Hungary's Romanian-inhabited area, the priest at Gyulafalva, Mirislav, belonged to the village's ennobled cnez family. There are numerous other examples in Hunyad county. In Pestenye (first mentioned in a document from 1360), the priest probably issue of a cnezial family, for that pattern still prevailed in the 15th century; indeed, in 1479, one branch of the family changed its name to Pap (meaning priest). When, in 1411, the property of the cnezial family at Borbátvíz was {1-570.} divided up among thirty-five male heirs, the first of the latter to be listed in the document was Dobrota, a priest and archdeacon of the Hátszeg district; the records show that his brother Koszta's three noble sons were all priests in 1494, and one of them bore the uncle's name, Dobrota. In 1444, one of the seven propertied cnez brothers in (Nalác)vád was identified as a parish priest, presumably of the church in that village. Others of the same ilk, mentioned in documents, include Sztojka Dalsánpataki Pap (1472) and Miklós Nadabori, son of the Romanian priest Lukács (1515). Thus there is evidence, stretching over one-and-a-half centuries, that the landed cnez families would customarily send one or two sons into the priesthood and the others into military service. To compensate for the repeated division by inheritance of their ancestral property, these prolific families sought to augment their wealth through church benefices and royal donations of land.

The landed cnezes not only provided priests but also built churches and acted as patrons of the church. The 'Romanian churches', at Osztró, Klopotiva, Pestenye, Demsus, and Tustya, that were served by priests listed in 1360 as members of the Hátszeg cnezial court (ecclesiarum sacerdotes olachales), must have been such cnezial churches. Péter, the priest at Osztró, was also an archdeacon (archidiaconus) in the Hátszeg district. Two of these churches survive in their original form. The one at Demsus is a simple Byzantine-style structure of local cut stone, some of which dates from Roman times; its spire, located in the middle, is similar to those of Transylvania's Romanesque, Catholic churches, and thus the building can be dated to the 13th century. The church at Osztró, also constructed of stone, displays Transylvanian Gothic style, and dates therefore from the 14th century. Reconstruction has obliterated the original appearance of the other three churches, but it is likely that they, too, were built of stone, much like the Romanesque, 13th-century churches at Zeykfalva, Sztrigyszentgyörgy, and Kolcvármalomvíz.

{1-571.} Thus, by the 13th century, cnezial churches in the Hátszeg region were substantial stone buildings, either of Byzantine style, or, more commonly, of a style similar to Hungarian churches in Transylvania. They testify to the comparative prosperity of the cnezes, who would continue to raise churches in the 14th–15th centuries, until they were ennobled and converted to Catholicism — at which point some of them may have transferred their churches to that rite. Although some consider the 13th-century church at Őraljaboldogfalva, a small, rural Hungarian town, to be of Vlach-Romanian origin, that is hardly likely, for the parish's Catholic priest figures in the 1332–37 tithe-list. On the other hand, the Orthodox church at Borbátvíz (served, in 1411, by the cnez priest and archdeacon noted earlier) may well date back to the 13th century; the present building is not the original, which may have been built of stone. One can include in this list the trefoil-plan Byzantine church of the monastery at Priszlop (Hunyad county), which was established around 1400 by Abbot Nicodim, founder of Wallachia's first monasteries; and two churches, at Nalácvád and Dalsánpatak, of which the only trace is the recorded name of their priests. No further information is available about medieval Romanian churches in the Hátszeg district, although there must have been more than the ones noted above.

Similarly, in the Romanian districts of Déva and Jófő, there must have been more Orthodox churches than the two, known only from references to their priests, at Keresztényalmás and Rakovica. Hunyadvár came into the ownership of the Hunyadi family in 1409. The Romanian church of Vajdahunyad was built some time after 1458, in the Byzantine style, on the plan of a Greek cross. At one time, a stone church must have stood in a dependency of Hunyadvár that once bore the name of the local, ennobled cnez family, Nadabor, and is now called Nadrap puszta; its priest was noted above for his cnez background. The Romanian voivodes of the bishops of Transylvania and Várad were considered equal in {1-572.} rank to Hungarian church nobility; they had Gothic stone churches erected, around 1400, at Lupsa, Zalatna, Kristyor, and Ribice. In 1349, the bishop of Várad permitted his voivode in Venter to appoint a priest — the earliest recorded occurrence of such an authorization. First mentioned in 1503, the archdeacon of Segesfalva, which was in the Belényes voivodeship of Várad's bishop, may have had a stone church as well. Records for 1538 and 1555 indicate that the same bishop's authority extended over Sebes, Kiskoh, Kocsuba, and Polyána, where the churches may date back to before 1526, and could have been built of stone, or perhaps of wood; all the known Orthodox churches dating from the Middle Ages and located in villages to the north of Hunyad and Alsó-Fehér counties were built of wood. Várad's bishop also owned Romanian villages on the western flanks of the Central Transylvanian Mountains. These lay beyond the confines of Transylvania, as did the Romanian districts on the western side of the Southern Carpathians, in Severin Province. There is little information regarding the latter districts' Romanian churches and priests — Glimboka's priest is mentioned in a source dating from 1493 — but, as noted, Greek Orthodox people must have settled in the area many years before. Reference has already been made to the record from 1364 indicating the presence of a Romanian priest in the Máramaros, which also lies outside Transylvania. That area's voivode and cnezes, whose ennoblement came early, must have had other stone churches in addition to the one at the monastery of Körtvélyes, which was founded before 1389. However, the only relevant sources date from 1516 and indicate the presence of wooden churches in Rozália, Visóorosz, and Havasmező.

To return to Transylvania, the records show Romanians living in the Szászföld and the Fogaras region ever since the early 13th century, but there is a dearth of information about their churches. In the second half of the 14th century, and more intermittently in the 15th century, the Wallachian voivodes were the feudal lords of {1-573.} estates in the Omlás district of Szeben and in Fogaras; they may well have initiated the construction of Orthodox churches, but no trace remains of the latter. Nor is there much trace of Orthodox churches in the Saxon seats, although the account books of (Nagy)szeben dating from around 1400 mention a Romanian priest, as does a charter from 1494, in reference to Alsóvárosvíz, in the Szászváros seat. The lack of data may be due to the fact that medieval Romanian churches were wooden buildings subject to decay and disappearance without trace. There is a suggestion that in the 14th century, a Greek Orthodox monastery stood at Szkorej, in the Fogaras region, but the data is unreliable.

The only medieval Romanian stone churches (other than monastery churches) about which reliable data exists are those in the Hátszeg district and at Lupsa, Zalatna, Ribice, and Kristyor. Some of these churches — at Demsus, Sztrigyszentgyörgy, Zeykfalva, Ribice, and Kistyor — are adorned with Byzantine frescoes dating from the early 15th century. The paintings, which bear Cyrillic inscriptions, depict saints (including, at Kristyor, Hungary's canonized Kings Stephen, Ladislas, and Prince Imre), along with the churches' founders, cnezes attired in western knightly garb. It remains a mystery whether, in the Middle Ages, Orthodox churches, of stone or wood, stood in the Romanian villages of Severin Province and of the Fogaras and Máramaros regions.

There is, on the other hand, ample evidence in medieval sources of the existence of Romanian wooden 'chapels' (capella olachorum). All but one were located on the estates of Hungarian noblemen, along the Nagy-Szamos and in the south of the Mezőség, between the Kis-Szamos and Maros rivers. The exception is the Greek Orthodox round church at Guraszáda, in Hunyad county. It was raised by the Ákos clan's Illyei family, after 1292, when King Andrew III gave them permission to settle Romanians on their estates, which bore the Hungarian names Illye, Fenes, and Szád. {1-574.} This early, seigniorial stone church lies in the same general area as the Romanian cnezes' 13th-century stone churches, which probably served as a model. A source dating from 1468 mentions another village on the same estate, Papfalva; judging from its name, which means 'priest's village', it must have had a church, though probably not of stone. Romanian settlers were allowed by their Hungarian landlords to have churches and priests, but since their cnezes were merely village judges, not privileged landowners, the settlers could afford to construct only wooden churches.

Due to the late start of Romanian settlement, documents begin to mention chapels only at the very end of the 14th century. The word 'chapel' suggests wooden construction, and this is explicitly confirmed in several sources. The earliest reference, from 1391, is to Oláhfráta, where the chapel was erected soon after neighbouring landowners had established — without permission — this 'large Romanian village' in the vicinity of Magyarfráta. The other chapels noted in early charters were also located in the Mezőség, at Rőd (1398), at Oláhpeterd (1415), where a Romanian cross was raised on the wayside, at Bogács (1430), at Dank (1435) — the only chapel on the left bank of the Kis-Szamos —, at Gerebenes (1447), where a house was built for the Romanian priest, and at Faragó (1451). The wooden churches at Pakocsa, Keménytelke, Lekence, Ikland, and Mezőkapus (first mentioned in 1539) may also have been erected prior to 1526. Farther south, Romanian wooden chapels become scarcer. The one at Nagyalmás (1418), in Hunyad county, was also on the right bank of the Maros; the only wooden chapels on the left bank are those at Erkes (1462) and at Szélkút (1500), in Kis-Küküllő county. The chapels in the Szilágy region were concentrated in a few estates: Erked, Görcsön, Kucsó, Bosháza, Győrtelek (1450; on the same estate, there were Hungarian Catholic stone churches at Kusaly, Diósad, and Széplak), and Kertésztelek (1470). Along the upper reaches of the Nagy-Szamos, chapels were to be found at Major, Oláhszentgyörgy, and Naszód (1450). There must {1-575.} have been more Romanian wooden churches than those mentioned in the surviving medieval charters, but it cannot be assumed that chapels noted at a later date are of medieval origin, even if the reference is to a restoration. What is certain is that, from the 14th century onward, Transylvania's Romanian folk art gave rise to wooden churches whose distinctive style has disappeared without trace.

The ultimate patron of the Romanians' churches was their feudal lord, for the Catholic landowner would consider Catholic and Orthodox churches alike as part of his property. The landowners included patron's galleries in their commission for Catholic churches, and their permission was needed for the erection of Romanian Orthodox churches and chapels; László Hunyadi and Matthias Hunyadi gave such permission at Vajdahunyad in 1456 and 1458, respectively. The patron's concurrence was probably needed in the appointment of Romanian priests; at Vajdahunyad, it was the landowner, Beatrix Frangepán, who in 1516 appointed an archdeacon, Péter Szokács, to supervise Romanian priests on the estate. Thus when an estate was subdivided or sold, its valuation took into account Catholic and Orthodox churches as well as mills. When, for example, in 1450, Miklós Kémeri and László Jakcs divided up their estates in the Naszód area and in the Szilágyság (Szilágy region), they included Catholic churches and Orthodox chapels in their list of assets; and when, in 1462, Tamás Barcsai sold a part of his estate in Erkes, it was described as 'the plot of a certain Romanian priest (presbiteri volahalis) together with his chapel.'[27]27. Quoted in Géza Entz, 'Mittelalterliche rumänische Holzkirchen in Siebenbürgen,' in Omagiu lui George Oprescu (Bucharest, 1961), p. 164.