Romania: Transylvanian Religious Heritage in Danger

Romania: Transylvanian Religious Heritage in Danger

On the evening of February 19, 2016, the church tower clock struck twice in Rotbav, then came the end of it. The clock, bells, tower and part of the church’s nave dropped down to the ground in the blink of an eye. And so, since that Friday night, the story of Rotbav’s fortified church, one of the oldest of its kind in Burzenland (Romanian Ţara Bârsei; Hungarian Barcaság), begins with “Once upon a time …”.

Rotbav church after it collapsed

It was a grim week for Transylvanian heritage. Just a few days apart, two fortified churches in Brasov County collapsed: Roadeş / Radeln’s church tower (fourteenth century – it partially collapsed on the 14th of February 2016) and the Rotbav / Rotbach’s church (dated around 1300 – on the 19th of February 2016).

Two churches that managed to survive for centuries have now fallen due to ignorance, lack of money and recklessness. They were two abandoned historical monuments that were too tired to wait for their rescue. What was not brought down by sieges, bad weather, fires and other disasters, has now been destroyed by us. In recent years, our indifference grinded their walls more than communist’s folly.

Rotbav’s fortified church dates from around 1300 and was fortified in the fifteenth century. The clock brought from Leipzig, Germany, and the organ made in Pécs, Hungary, were installed in 1908. Just as the village, the church went through several sieges and fires, being damaged and partly rebuilt several times.

Roadeş’s church was built in the fourteenth century as a Roman basilica. The next century it was transformed to withstand attacks. The altar dated from 1533, and exemplifying the transition between the Gothic and Renaissance period, stood inside this church until 1998 when it was moved to the church of St. Johannis in Sibiu. The door of the vestry dates from 1526.

Damaged Roades church

The Transylvanian fortified churches, the Swabians’ churches from Banat, the German ones in Dobrogea, and also the synagogues form the orphan heritage of religious buildings in Romania, along with other historical monuments that could be included here. The urgent need to restore these churches is has long been apparent and known.

In 2015, 18 fortified churches from Transylvania were renovated through European funds. Several other works have been planned this year and the church from Roadeş was among them. Nevertheless, in Transylvania there are 150 such churches, some of which have already partially collapsed, many are in an awful state of decay and most of them rest in oblivion and indifference.

On top of that, a most awful feeling of helplessness and disconcert prevails. No matter how optimistic we are, present circumstances induce not the slightest shimmer of hope as there is little proof that the situation will anytime soon change and things will finally develop towards saving what it is left.

Rotbav church after it collapsed

Contribution by Mara Popescu

Source (text and images) in Romanian

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