Popescu, Mara: Saving our heritage: the story of a wooden church

Popescu, Mara: Saving our heritage: the story of a wooden church


PhD. C. Arch.Mara Popescu

A sensitive area,which can be easily destroyed by people’s ignorance, is a nation’s cultural history. The respect for the authentic values​​of the past, as well as discovering and preserving it, defines the  noble  mission  of  the  profession  as  an  architect.

An interesting place, where we can find multiple magnificent examples of vernacular architecture, the most representative for the national culture, from all over Romania, can be found in Bucharest, since 1936. This is none other than the first open-air museums in Europe, the Village Museum “Dimitrie Gusti”.

One good example that we will speak about is the wooden church fromTurea -exposed here– which was built in the eighteenth century and fits in the category of wooden Orthodox churches. This religious building has an unknown interesting background, related to its long journey to Bucharest.In addition, the church is considered as one of the oldest such buildings in Transylvania, being in the category of monuments in the museum’s catalog.

The church was built at 25 kilometers west from Cluj-Napoca, in the village of Turea / Türe, Gârbău commune, Cluj county. Ever since the Middle Ages, the village had a population predominantly Hungarian,feature that has been maintained even in the modern times-in 1910, in the village there were 296 Romanians and 606 Hungarians.[24]

In the first hal fof the eighteenth century (possibly 1750,according to the date inscribed on the door)[17][8], in the village cemetery, was built a wooden Orthodox church.There are authors (such as Kós Károly and Toşa Ioan) who said that the church is older than the date printed on wood door[10][12]. The church was built,probably, by the craftsmen carpenters from Gilău,specialized in wooden churches, a village which is near the village Turea.[2]

In terms of compliance with the plan, these churches are characterized by a small simple plan,comparable to a peasant house, feature whose explanation lies in defining aspects of the community in which they occurred-the small number of families who lived in a village, in that time; their financial strength-low-; the need to remove and hide the church in times of need etc. This statement can be supported by data collected during the census between 1760-1762, which mentions the existence of 37 villages in the region, with an average of 60 families[12].

The construction, made out of rustic oak (placed in bowls andjoined at the corners in”dovetail”), stands on a foundation of river stone, without binder. Above the ante-temple stands the belfry, with a prismatic shape, which emphasizes the main volume of the building and contains important details for the specific composition of the assembly.The cover is in 4 waters, made out of pine shingle, with the tongue and groove joint.[2]

Everything began in the year 1910, which was a decisive year, when the wooden church was replaced by a building made out of brick,much more spacious, in accordance with the needs of the parishioners in the village.

Luckily, there was an expert that recognized its architectural value and tried to save the old wooden Orthodox religious building, otherwise, it would have been destroyed, just like the other wooden churches of Transylvania,in the same period[8][12][4].Saving this monument is due to Kós Károly, a Transylvanian interwar architect(born in 1883 in Timişoara- died in 1977 in Cluj), renowned specialist in the recognition and saving of the Transylvanian ethnographic values and the one who ​​promoted,in his works, the traditional vernacular architecture from Transylvania.

The connection between the famous architect and this particular Orthodox wooden church was made through his wife, who was the daughter of Turea’s reformed priest.  Kós Károly went first in Turea in 1899 and in the following year- 1900-he began to study and sketch elements belonging to vernacular architecture of the Călata area, the first drawings having as subject the church of Turea.

Regarding his formation, starting from 1902, he frequented the Polytechnic University of  Budapest.In 1907,he received a scholarship for 6 months to study the ethnography and the vernacular architecture from Transylvania.[15] His relations with some specialists from Budapest were made during these years(he viewed the collections of the Hungarian National Museum in 1903)[9], and he has been as consultant at the Hungarian Association of Engineers and Architects. The Monuments Committee, the Hungarian National Museum and the Hungarian Ministry of Education and Cult, requested his support from the association.

Published in professional journals, Magyar Iparmuvezet [1] and  A Ház[2], the two studies dedicated to the wooden church from Turea, that Kós Károly wrote, show the extraordinary value of this monument.
It is believed that these specific articles read by the Committee of Monuments from Hungary, as well by the Hungarian National Museum, were decisive in the subsequent action taken by the two bodies in order to save the wooden church.

It is clear that the interest of specialists working in the field in the two countries was sparked by Károly Kós through his publications from 1906 and 1908. In Romania, the articles were examined by Alexander Tzigara-Samurcaş, the founder and first director of the National Museum of Ethnography and Art of Romania (1906). Thus, Tzigara-Samurcaş noted in Vremuri de grea încercare (Times ofgreat difficulty):

“As a final argument,which the Hungarian neighbors assign to the work of Romanians beyond the Carpathians,may serve even the reproduction of the church in Tiurea, which, following last summer trip, I booked it for the museumin Bucharest. As seen bearing the inscription, the reproduction is made ​​after Hungarian magazine “A Ház” in May 1910 (actually 1908 note), where the church is mentioned as one of the most important specimens of  <<templomolah>>, meaning Romanian church. “.[16][19]

Alexander Tzigara-Samurcaş uses, in the article in March 1910, from the journal Convorbiri Literare (Literary Talk), a reproduction after the engraving of Kós Károly (Fig. 1), indicating the source “A Ház[19] (Fig. 2)  and,also,uses in two other articles the same reproduction, with the background changed, but now without the indication of the source (Fig. 4 si 5).[3]

This rivalry from 1909-1910 to save the monument (which we can characterize, without doubt, as being scientific) has as actors Kós Károly, Alexander Tzigara-Samurcaş and The Hungarian National Museum.

In an interview given in Cluj, in 1977, to Benkő Samu by the architect Kós Károly, he states that he saved the wooden church, when it was replaced by a brick building, in 1910:

” Just before WWI, the Romanians from Turea village built a brick church and they wanted to put to old wooden church, which was in a degraded state, for firewood. I told the priest, a friend of mine, not to put it in the auction, because I will buy and will pay for it as it will be the estimated amount and I will move it near my house from Stana. We did the deal. But then the  war came. Finally, the church ended in the Village Museum, in Bucharest. For restoration, they  required my drawings and have used my advice. “[1][6]

The fact that they both arrived at the same time there seems a coincidence. In the spring of 1909, Kós Károly, who was regularly visiting the village, made ​​the offer in order to purchase it. In the summer of the same year, Alexander Tzigara-Samurcaş first arrived in Cluj area, with his study trip. On this occasion, he wanted also to visit the church of Turea, his interest in this monument being raised by various studies published in the specialized literature. Finding about the situation of the timber church, he tried to book it.

We can see that both of them have only made a reservation without paying, although Alexander Tzigara-Samurcaş said, in 1936, that he bought the church. In 1910, in the article published by Al. Tzigara-Samurcaş in Convorbiri Literare[1] he makes public the fact that the procurement funds of the museum were cut, also referring to the unability of purchasing Turea’s wooden church, reserved for him in 1909. With this opportunity , he stresses at the same time its significance for the Romanian architectural heritage.

Kós Károly could not buy the church, because of the national feelings of the romanians living there, that were favorable to the request of Tzigara-Samurcaş to bring the church in Romania. In this situation, Károly Kós recommended to The Hungarian National Museum the acquisition of the wooden church in Turea.[14]

In the studied documents  – Bisericile de lemn din zonele Călatei, Gilăului, Hăldatelor şi Clujului. Aspecte istorico-etnografice şi arhitectură tradiţională  (-Wooden Churches from Călata, Gilăul, Hăşdatelor and Cluj area. Ethnographic and historical aspects and traditional architecture) –we can find a reference to a statement of the Committee of Hungarian National Museum Monuments[3].This report, mentioned in the Scientific Bulletin of the Hungarian National Museum, recorded the serious intention to save the wooden church by the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest.

In 1910, the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest designates Sándor Beluleszko to acquire the Romanian wooden church from Turea[1]. This institution considered the monument as representative for Romanians in Transylvania, taking into account the scientific articles of Kós Károly, previously published, and also the architect’s recommendation addressed to the Hungarian National Museum, to purchase the church. Beluleszko was concerned, several times, with Romanian ethnography, so no wonder that, at the time, the Hungarian National Museum empowered him to make the purchase of the church.[13] When Beluleszko came in Turea in September 11, 1910  he initiated a photographic documentation campaign and wrote a detailed description of the church. Afterwards, he contacted the Greek-Catholic Archpriest in Cluj, dr. Ilie Dăianu, who said, rumored, that Mr. Tzigara-Samurcaş would have bought the church with 800 krons, emphasizing that the villagers already had consumed this amount of money. Probably due to the desire to bring the church in Romania, at the request of Tzigara-Samurcaş, it appeared this little story of the sale of the church in 1909. After visiting Turea, Beluleszko issued a report[2] that says that the first church was promised to the Ethnographic Museum in Budapest[3] and mentioned that Mr. Tzigara-Samurcaş cannot bring the church in Romania without the approval of the Committee of Monuments in Hungary. Additionally, he makes an interesting proposal, for her redemption.

In1911, after Beluleszko’s visit, Dr. Vilibáld Semayer (ethnographer[4]) reaches Turea in order to investigate the church and to produce a report which was subsequently submitted to the Ministry of Culture of Hungary [5].

In this paper, the author characterizes Al. Tzigara-Samurcaş as an objective scientist, passionate about Romanian cultural heritage. He notes that the architect Kós Károly is what drew attention to the Hungarian Ethnographic Museum on church’s beautiful architecture and the purpose of his visit in Turea (accompanied by Archpriest Dr.Ilie Dăianu) is to determine whether the wooden church has heritage value or not. Follows Dr.Semayer’s interesting conclusion, which recommended to cancel the temporary ban in transportation of the church in Romania:”to maintain good bilateral relations with the Romanians, the church has to be ceded to Alexander Ţigara-Samurcaş.”[14] Semayer Vilibáld’s solution, radically different from that of specialists until then, has to be seen through the major actions of Alexander Ţigara-Samurcaş in Bucharest, who asked for help from the Romanian Foreign Ministry to move church in Romania.[16]

In the interwar period- probably in 1920–Turea’s wooden church was brought to Bucharest by Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaş. He wanted to expose it in the courtyard of the Museum of Ethnography and National Art, but because the building was not finished, the parts of the church were stored in the basement of the museum, waiting:”The blessed conduct of the war has brought us all the land where the church was, which we could lift and carry it to the Museum in Bucharest, now expecting in the cellars its reassemble in the courtyard of the unfinished Museum.”[16] (building completed in 1941).

As for the periods of removal and transfer of the church,there are two different assumptions-different records that establish two years: 1920 or 1926.

Szabó István(b. 1903) from Turea, interviewed in 1992 by a committee of the Village Museum “Dimitrie Gusti”, Bucharest, which went to the village to learn more about the history of the wooden church, says that the date of removal of the church in Bucharest was 1920. Here counted how he was transported “To Gârbău-, it was taken by carts and then probably by train.In the village, the church was surrounded by a fence of thorns. The tower had a bell and the altar had doors. The cover of the building was from pine shingle, which was brought from the mountains.”[6]. The church remained stored, unmounted, in the basement.[2]

Another timing hypothesis for removing the church is the year 1926 or even after. The hypothesis is based on the picture taken in 1926, showing the church on its original site in the village Turea, undismantled, but in an advanced state of decay[23]:

The committee,formed in1921 in order toprevent the demolition ofold woodenchurches, identifies the prioritycasesand lists them. We find that the church from Turea, well knownand in anadvanced state ofdegradation(Fig. 5) (1926?), is not(or no more?) on the list. [11]

Another piece of evidenc eof appreciation of the value and the competence of architect Kós Károly is coming in 1924, as recorded by Daicoviciu Constantin in „Raport cu privire la lucrările din anul 1924 din Comisiunea Monumentelor Istorice Secţiunea din Transilvania şi ţinuturile mărginaşe”[7](-Report regarding the works from year 1924 from the Historical Monuments CommitteeSection of Transylvania and marginal lands), where it shows that Kós Károly was elected in 1924, as a corresponding member of the”Historic Monuments Committee, Section of Transylvania and marginal lands” belonging to the Ministry of Arts and Culture, committee which had as president Alexander Lapedatu (Minister of Arts and Culture).[5]

In 1954, after two years of negotiations (which they had begun in 1952), led by George Focșa (at that time as the director of the Village Museum) with the Museum of the History of the Communist Party (that had taken the place of the National Museum of Art), the Village Museum took over all the material that was in an advanced state of decay and rebuilt the church on his land, with restoring some of the elements, as the curator Georgeta Stoica says, adding that “unfortunately, from the old mural was nothing left”[22]. According to the declaration of the same curator, George Focşa made ​​several trips to Transylvania to research about wooden church’s architecture necessary for its reconstruction using, obviously, the only sketches and studies existing, made by the renowned architect Kós Károly.[8]

The cultural heritage of a nation is a part of the universal heritage, an international product, which requires continuous intervention from specialists in saving and preserving it in the best conditions. The preservation for future generations of cultural evidence is a patriotic obligation that architects are directly involved with. The crucial role of architect Kós Károly in saving and as well in the subsequent reconstruction of the wooden church in Bucharest, is not known, nor recorded in the archives of the Village Museum”Dimitrie Gusti”, Bucharest.

Author: PhD. C. Arch.Mara Popescu


[1]Kós Károly: «Türei oláh templom». MAGYAR IPARMUVESZET  (Budapest) 1906, vol. 9, evf.no.6,sz. p.312

[2]Kós Károly: «A Türei Oláh Templomrál. Rövid tanulmány a türei fatemplomrál illusztrálva». A HÁZ (Budapest) 1908, vol. I.,évf, pp. 61-63

[3]Tzigara-Samurcaş, Alexandru, L´Art du Peuple Roumain. Catalogue de l´exposition de Genève, Musée Rath, 1925,the engraving with the church; Tzigara-Samurcaş, Alexandru: Muzeografie românească, Bucureşti, 1936. p. VI: (at the beginning) the engraving with the church

[4]Al. Tzigara-Samurcaş in Convorbiri Literareno.1/vol.2, march 1910, year XLIV, p.115-119

[5]Beluleszko Sándor (1879-1914), original from Timiş, custodian aid at the Ethnography Section, the kernel of later Hungarian Ethnographic Museum.

[6]Report 1910.11.27-NMI 78/1910

[7]Report nr. 949/1910- Monuments Committee from Hungary

[8]dr. Vilibáld Semayer, ethnographer, hierarchical head of Beluleszko at the Hungarian Ethnographic Museum

[9]Vilibáld Semayer’s petition to the governing board in the matter of the wooden church of Türe, Budapesta, 1912, Nr inventory NMI 8/1912

[10] Travel report file – no. 651, Travel report / year 1992, Authors: Ion Godea, CorneliuMirescu, Rusalin Işfănoni in Scientific Archive of the National Village Museum “Dimitrie Gusti”.

[11]“Raport cu privire la lucrările din anul 1924 din Comisiunea Monumentelor Istorice Secţiunea din Transilvania şi ţinuturile mărginaşe”, Cluj, 1926., p. 12

[12] Kós Károly: Türei oláh templom. MAGYAR IPARMUVESZET  (Budapest) 1906 vol. 9, evf.no.6, sz. p.312 old; Kós Károly: A Türei Oláh Templomrál. Rövid tanulmány a türei fatemplomrál illusztrálva. A HÁZ (Budapest)1908, vol. I.,évf, pp. 61-63 old.)


  1. BENKŐ,Samu, “Öszi beszélgetés Kós Károllyal Erdély Köveiről.” Utunk Évkonyv, Kolozsvár. 1977, p.124-125
  2. BÂRCA, Ana, Fişa analitică de evidenţă a monumentelor istorice-Biserica de lemn satul Turea, judeţul Cluj, martie 2012.
  3. CÎMPIAN, Felicia Elena, Bisericile de lemn din zonele Călatei, Gilăului, Hășdatelor și Clujului. Aspecte istorico-etnografice și arhitectură tradițională. Ed. Risoprint, Cluj Napoca, 2002, p.21.
  4. CRISTACHE-PANAIT,  Ioana, „Decorația sculptată a monumentelor istorice din lemn din județul Cluj”. Rev. Muzeelor şi Monumentelor. Seria Monumente Istorice și de Artă 1980 (I), p. 42-47.
  5. DAICOVICIU, Constantin, Comisiunea Monumentelor Istorice Secţiunea din Transilvania şi ţinuturile mărginaşe. Raport cu privire la lucrările din anul 1924, Cluj, 1926., p. 12
  6. GALL, Anthony: Kós Károly – Muhelye. Mondus Magyar Egyetemy Kiado. Budapest. 2002, p. 145
  7. KÓS Károly, A Türei Oláh Templomrál. Rövid tanulmány a türei fatemplomrál illusztrálva. A HÁZ, Budapest,1908, vol. I, pp. 61-63.
  8. KÓS, Károly, Türei oláh templom. Magyar Iparmuveszet,  Budapest, 1906, vol. 9, no.6, p.312.
  9. KÓS, Károly, Életrajz (közzéteszi: Benkő Samu), ed. Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó, Budapest – ed. Kriterion, Bucuresti, 1991, pp.26-28; p.30; p.36.
  10. KÓS, Károly, Régi Kalotaszeg, ed.Athenaeum, Budapest, 1911, pp. 19-21.
  11. LAPEDATU, Alexandru, Comisiunea Monumentelor Istorice Secţiunea din Transilvania şi ţinuturile mărginaşe. Raport cu privire la lucrările din primul an de funcţionare 1921/1922, Cluj, 1922, p. 9.
  12. TOŞA, Ioan, Biserici de lemn din împrejurimile Clujului și Huedinului, Monumente istorice și de artă religioasă din arhiepiscopia Vadului, Feleacului și Clujului, 1982, Cluj. , p. 229-248,
  13. SEMAYER, Vilibáld, Jelentés a M. N. Múzeum néprajzi osztályának állapotáról az 1910. év harmadik évnegyedében, A Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum Néprajzi Osztályának Értesítője. Az „Ethnographia” melléklete,vol. XI ,1910, p. 275-276.
  14. SEMAYER, Vilibáld,  Vilibáld Semayer’s petition to the governing board in the matter of the wooden church of Türe, Budapesta, 1912, Nr inventar NMI 8/1912
  15.  SAS Péter, Kós Károly képeskönyv, 2010 şi
    Sas Péter, Kós Károly művészete, ed.Noran, 2004
  16. TZIGARA-SAMURCAŞ, Alexandru, Vremuri de grea încercare din  Convorbiri Literare, martie 1910, şi Tzigara-Samurcaş Alexandru, Muzeografie românească, Bucureşti, 1936, pp.63-65 şi p. 63, subsol,  adaus în 1936.
  17. TZIGARA-SAMURCAŞ, Alexandru, L´Art du Peuple Roumain. Catalogue de l´exposition de Genève, Musée Rath, 1925, gravură cu biserica.
  18. TZIGARA-SAMURCAŞ, Alexandru, Muzeografie românească, Bucureşti, 1936. p. VI, gravură cu biserica.
  19. TZIGARA-SAMURCAŞ, Alexandru, Convorbiri Literare, no.1,vol.2, martie 1910, anul XLIV, pp.115-119


  1. www.muzeultaranuluiroman.ro/cladire
  2. www.szekelyfoldert.info/sznm/setak/belso/saekelykapu.htm
  3. Biserica recuperată de la comuniști a fost inaugurată”.http://stiri.rol.ro/biserica-recuperata-de-la-comunisti-a-fost-inaugurata-703558.html. Publicat pe stiri.rol.ro.
  4. http://kjntfotoarchivum.adatbank.transindex.ro/kep.php?id=11321&q=bWVneWU9UzI5c2IzcHpJQ2hEYkhWcUtRJmtlemQ9MjMwMQ==&vissza=kepek
  5. www.kia.hu/konyvtar/erdely/erd2002/cjetn02.pdf : Varga E. Árpád:Kolozs megye településeinek etnikai (anyanyelvi/nemzetiségi) adatai 1850-2002. A csíkszeredai Pro-Print Kiadónál 2001-ben „Erdély etnikai és felekezeti statisztikája. IV. Fehér, Beszterce-Naszód és Kolozs megye. Népszámlálási adatok 1850–1992 között” címmel megjelent kötet vonatkozó részének javított és frissebb adatokkal bővített elektronikus változata. Utolsó módosítás: 2008. november 2.


Share this post: