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Gothic church architecture in Romania.

Gothic Church architecture in Transylvania

Of the Romanian historical provinces of Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania that constitute the bulk and backbone of modern Romania, the latter is by far the richest in Gothic architecture, which makes sense historically as Transylvania was in the Middle Ages an eastern extension, albeit more or less autonomous, first of the Kingdom of Hungary, and later, until 1918, of Austria-Hungary. This is clearly visible in the townships of Brasov, Sibiu, Sighisoara, Cluj, Medias, Bistrita, Sebes, Alba Iulia, Lechinta etc. where the Saxons were the majority population and held the administrative, financial and political power. It all began in the 12th century when King Geza II of Hungary colonized Transylvania with a German population henceforward to be called Saxons (Saxones and Flandrenses in the Latin documents), but which included Bavarians, Thuringians, Franconians, Flemish and Wallons. The fortified Saxon villages of Transylvania, since 1993 and 1999 on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, were their own creation (i.e. Biertan, Calnic, Darjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz and Viscri). The Teutonic Knights came with them in 1211 on the orders of King Andrew II, together with the Cistercian monks who, as everywhere in Europe, built abbeys. One of these was Carta Abbey situated between Brasov (Kronstadt) and Sibiu (Hermannstadt) on a plot of land granted to Prince Benedict of Transylvania by King Andrew II of Hungary. It was completed in record time between 1202 and 1206, and was officially recorded in a document dated 1223. It was destroyed several times by the Mongols throughout the 13th century, especially during the 1241 invasion which lay waste to Kievan Rus and Central Europe. In its heyday, it was a cruciform three-aisled church with transepts. Today it lies in ruin; all that is left is the choir with a sexpartite vaulted ceiling, the east polygonal apse with sexafoiled rose windows--the structure being supported on the exterior by buttresses--and the south wall with the ruined monks cells. The ruined west facade has a gabled portal surmounted by a huge window hole, not very dissimilar from the oculus of Roman and Italian architecture. Next to the northwest side stands a polygonal observation tower.

Some of the churches are hall churches (Hallenkirchen), a German architectural invention, as the master builders were Saxons or had been trained by them. We remind the reader that in the case of hall churches the side-aisles are approximately the same height as the nave, unlike the churches built to a basilican plan where they are (much) lower. Now a distinguishing feature of Transylvanian hall churches is that the side-aisles are (much) wider than in the rest of Europe, from Germany, Poland and Scandinavia to Spain and Portugal. The churches have no flying buttresses and are smaller than what we find in the West, as the townsfolk were much less numerous than elsewhere. To give only one example, in the second half of the 15th century, during the reign of Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490), Cluj (Hungarian name Kolozsvar, German name Klausenburg) had a population of barely 5,000-6,000 inhabitants, so there was no need for very large ecclesiastical buildings.

St Mary's Evangelical basilica (1350-1520) at Sibiu, the oldest in the country, has a nave 68 m long, 22 m wide and 15.5 m high. In exchange, its tower with corner turrets (showing that the city had a Court of Law) rises to 73.34 m, one of the highest in Transylvania. It is a three-aisled church with transepts and porches on the north and south sides, all under a polychrome tiled roof harking back to Stephansdom in Vienna, but the south side was converted to a hall-church design in the late 15th century. There are north and south porches, and an exonarthex at the west end. The interior houses the tombs of Baron Samuel von Brukenthal, founder of the homonymous art gallery and museum of international fame based in Sibiu, and of Prince Mihnea the Wicked, ruler of Wallachia and son of the infamous Vlad III Dracula (Vlad the Impaler); he took refuge from the Turks in Transylvania, but was murdered outside the cathedral in 1510. The church of Turni[or (German Neppendorf) on the outskirts of Sibiu was built in the 13th century by Saxon colonists as a three-aisled fortified church. It has an 18th c. square tower at the crossing, just like the church of Gusterita (German Hammersdorf), now a suburb of Sibiu.

St Michael's Roman Catholic church of Cluj is of hall-church plan. It is 70 m long, 24 m wide and 50 m high (apart from the tower, see infra). The chancel is short and apsidal ended, with tall traceried windows. The vaults are quadripartite and of star-shaped design. The building was completed during the reign of Sigismund of Luxembourg who was Holy Roman emperor, king of Hungary and king of Bohemia (1387-1437), as shown by the three coats of arms above the portal. The church boasts in addition the tallest spired neo-Gothic tower (80 m to the cross, 19th c.) in Romania. It was in this church that Hungary's greatest king, Matthias Corvinus, was baptized and several princes of Transylvania were invested between 1581-1613, viz. Sigismund Bathory, Sigismund Rakoczi, Gabriel Bathory, and Gabriel Bethlen.

Slightly larger (89m x 23 m) is the now Lutheran Black Church of Brasov, so named following the 1689 fire that blackened its stone walls. It too is a hall church with tall octagonal piers and an apsidal east end, one portal at the west front and two portals on the north, as well as the south, side, and just one sturdy, square, spireless tower on the southwest side. The church boasts the largest and best organ in Romania, and a highly valued collection of Oriental carpets, the gift of the rich merchants of the city which makes one think of the many wool churches of England. The interior is a mix of Gothic and Baroque.

By contrast, the nave of the Franciscan Order's hall church at Targu-Mures (Marosvasarhely in Hungarian, Neumartkt in German), un magnifique edifice to quote Nicolae Iorga, Romania's greatest historian (1871-1940), is of almost lilliputian size: 32.5 m x 16.6 m, the choir measuring 22.5 m x 9 m; but since it is single-naved (i.e. aisleless), the interior may give an impression of vastness.

By far the oldest church in Brasov (13th-15th cc) and one of the oldest in Transylvania is St Bartholomew's on the outskirts of the Old Town, at the end of the 2 km long High Street (Strada Lunga) which links it in the opposite direction with the Town Square, the Town Hall and the Black Church. It is a three-aisled basilica with transepts, a rather rare feature in Transylvanian Gothic. There is a single square multi-tiered tower (19th c.) with a pyramidal spire at the west end which is pierced by Gothic windows and has a recessed Gothic portal. The polygonal apse at the east end has round windows of the wheel type which abounded in the transitional period between Romanesque and Gothic architecture in the West. The church seems to have been inspired by the Cistercian abbey church at Carta. It has a red tiled roof and is completely whitewashed, which makes a nice contrast.

The church at Prejmer, in county Brasov, erected in the mid-13th century, is to all accounts the best preserved and mightiest medieval fortress church in Eastern Europe. It was completed in the mid-13th century to a Greek Cross plan with four arms of equal length, each arm having two bays, one squarish, the other one polygonal. Rising on the crossing is an octagonal tower with a spire. The choir is flanked on the north and south sides by rectangular chapels.

St Nicholas' church in Sighisoara (German Schassburg, Hungarian Segesvar) in county Mures, built from 1345 to 1525, is the fourth largest church in Transylvania (53 m long) and the only one which has a Romanesque crypt underneath the 16th c. choir. This is the church where in 1631 Prince George Rakoczy was elected ruler of Transylvania and king of Hungary. The former basilica was modified to a hall church in the mid-15th century. There are portals on the north and south sides, and a massive square tower with arrow slits on the northwest side. The spire of the tower attains a height of 42m. The interior is covered in fresco paintings and has a reticulated Gothic vault.

St Michael's Cathedral at Alba Iulia belongs to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Alba Iulia (Gyulafehervar in Hungarian). It is a Romanesque-Gothic basilica of the 12th-14th centuries. It features on the southwest side a single narrow, but deeply recessed, western portal, and a seven-storey high tower (62 m), with Romanesque and Gothic windows. It has short transepts and a semicircular apsidal east end with tall lancet windows. The nave measures inside 70 m by 25 m. In 2009, the Roman Catholic Archbishopric of Alba Iulia, the oldest in the country, celebrated its millennium: indeed, it is on record that in 1009, the year when Pope John XVIII was succeeded in Rome by Pope Sergius IV, King Stephen I of Hungary established at Alba Iulia the first Catholic Archdiocese of Transylvania.

The fortified church at Medias (Hungarian Medgyes) dedicated to St Margaret was built in the 14th-15th centuries. Its northwestern square tower 68.5 m high is topped with a hipped roof. The entire church is covered with a polychrome tile roof that recalls the Vienna Cathedral. It is thought (so local historians say) that Vlad Dracula was imprisoned in the tower for a stint shortly before his assassination in 1476.

The Evangelical church at Sebes (German Muhlbach, Hungarian Szaszsebes) has a few remarkable features which makes it stand out among the other churches of Transylvania. In the first place, it was added to an older Romanesque three-aisled basilica of which only the nave remains, but with the Gothic modifications brought about in the 14th century, i.e. the introduction of Gothic arched bays between the solid, massive square piers, and of the Gothic windows in the side walls. In exchange, the choir (mid-14th c.), measuring 28.5 m x 13.8 m x 15 m, is a hall church considerably higher than the nave; it is supported by clustered piers topped with floral capitals, and houses a polyptical altarpiece of 13 m by 6 m, the largest in Transylvania, at the east end which terminates in a polygonal apse. The whole structure is supported by buttresses all round. The multi-storied single west tower is in line with the large window beneath that surmounts a diminutive gabled portal. The tower is crowned with a spire and has four corner turrets showing that the town has a lawcourt.

St Joseph's Cathedral in Bucharest appertains to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bucharest. It is a basilica 40 m long and 22 m wide. The west facade has a wheel window with 12 radiating glazing bars and an oculus in the gable that is decorated with six graceful Corinthian colonnettes. The building, erected between 1875 and 1884 during the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII, is of red brick and white stone. The interior has an altarpiece of Carrara marble and fine woodwork by carvers from Brasov.

Of the c. 150 extant fortified parish churches in Transylvania built by Saxon, Magyar and Szekely communities, seven have been declared UNESCO Heritage Sites. The most beautiful of them, in the author's opinion, is the church at Biertan, a village close to Medias city. Its nave vault is supported by octagonal stone piers, and the choir has a reticulated vault of the type one can admire at a few important, iconic church buildings in Europe, e.g. the Stephansdom in Vienna, the Lorenzkirche in Nuremberg, the cathedrals at Bremen, Wells, Hereford, Seville and Kosice, as also at the Vladislav (Vaclav) Hall in Prague Castle. Biertan is surrounded by two lines of curtain walls which give it an impregnable look.

It is a matter of pure speculation, but it is not impossible that if the plot to establish Catholicism firmly in Wallachia hatched by Princess Klara Dobokai, the second wife of Prince Nicolae Alexandru Basarab of Wallachia (to use his Romanian names), had not been thwarted by Prince Vlaicu, her stepson who was a devout Orthodox of Byzantine rite, there would have been many more medieval Gothic church buildings in Romania than there are at present. Klara was a staunch Catholic related to Hungarian noblemen that controlled the southwestern part of Wallachia in the name of King Louis the Great of Hungary and Poland, and she was hand in glove with him and the Holy See. It was really a case of touch and go as the young Prince Nicolae Alexandru Basarab, the future ruling prince (hospodar) of Wallachia, was himself of such favourable disposition towards Roman Catholicism that he was much lauded by Pope Clement VI in an official document dated 17 October 1345 and sent to King Louis the Great (Nagy Lajos) of Hungary. In this document, the Pope informed the Hungarian king that "many Romanian noblemen (Olachi Romani)" in Transylvania, Wallachia and Serbia, including "the noble man Alexander, son of Basarab" have embraced the Catholic Faith (apud Matei Cazacu 2013). One might add the well-documented fact on record that the Moldavian Prince Alexander Lapusneanu (d. 1568), who has gone down in history as the man who used to invite native high-ranking boyars (suspected of unproven felony) and kill them while wining and dining them, pulled down numberless churches built by the Saxons and Seklers in order to force them to embrace Greek Orthodoxy.

The principal hallmarks of Transylvanian Gothic are as follows:

* Hall churches and aisleless churches, all with remarkable spatial unity.

* Rectangular plan. No transepts, with very few exceptions (e.g. St Bartholomew's, Brasov; St Mary's Cathedral, Sibiu).

* Moderately sized.

* Absence of western twin towers, with or without spires. Square tower on the north or south side. Central tower, a rarity (e.g. St Michael's, Cluj).

* Single western portal, but side-entrances are fairly common (e.g. the Black Church in Brasov).

* Absence of large rose windows.

* Fortified churches with castellar look. More solids than voids.

* No flying buttresses.

Gothic Church architecture in Moldavia

Medieval architecture in Wallachia and Moldavia is unmistakably Byzantine with some admixture of Islamic art motifs (Turkish, Armenian, Georgian or Persian), but in Moldavia, unlike Wallachia, there are elements of Gothic church architecture clearly visible in the gently arched or sharply pointed shape of doors and windows (a few of them deeply recessed, with archivolts and occasionally painted, rarely sculptured, tympanums, and with Gothic tracery), in the presence of buttresses, some of them stepped (of which few reach up to the roof, but most of them don't), and in the window-and-door frames and mouldings (scotias, toruses, ovolos and fillets) and other ornamental decorations (blind arcading, niches, ceramic roundels) of a number of churches, some of them with ribbed vaulting (e.g. the exonarthex vault of Balinesti church).

It is a matter of common knowledge that the basic difference between Gothic churches in Transylvania and Moldavia is that the former are built to a Latin cross plan (as in the rest of Catholic Europe), while the latter are a rather free and original adaptation and re-thinking of the Byzantine Greek cross plan which, as is known, has more or less equal arms.

The longitudinal sections of Moldavian Orthodox churches along the west-east axis are called in Romanian pridvor (which may be absent), pronaos, naos and altar, but they do not exactly dovetail in size and function with their western counterparts, i.e. nave, choir and chancel. For instance, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition of Romania, women worshippers were massed in the pronaos, while the naos was reserved for male members of the congregation, including the high dignitaries and the prince and family. The passage from pronaos into naos is through a door in the separating wall, but exceptionally, as at St George's church at Harlau, there is an arcade of arches. In the West, the nave is longer than the choir (with a few exceptions in Catalonia, Spain) and is reserved for members of the congregation; in the East, the naos is shorter than the pronaos and is reserved for clergy and choir. A few churches in Moldavia have a burial chamber (locally called gropnita) placed between the pronaos and naos. In the West, this would roughly correspond with the crypt or undercroft, the difference being that these are generally built underground.

A special regional feature exhibited by some churches are the single or double bands of blind arcading diminishing towards the roof, would-be niches and glazed earthenware discs (medallions, roundels), known as ocnite, under the eaves line, most of which are coloured blue, green or yellow. Most of the churches have two rows of such discs (some of them even on the upper section of the steeple, just below the roof, as at Sucevita), while St Nicholas' church at Dorohoi (county Botosani) has three.

All this, in varying degrees, can be found in the townships of Baia, Siret, Roman, Piatra Neamt, Botosani, Dorohoi, Radauti, Suceava, Iasi, Dragomirna etc where Roman Catholicism took root to the extent that at one time, in the second half of the 14th century, there were two Roman Catholic Archbishoprics in Moldavia, one at Baia (the country's first capital city), the other at Siret (Moldavia's second capital). Archaeological diggings have shown that Baia had two Catholic churches, one dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, the other to the Virgin Mary, while at Siret, according to a document dated 1384, the ruling prince Peter I Musat, at the intercession of his Catholic mother, princess Margaret, laid the foundations of a second Catholic church for the Franciscan friars.

Her name is mentioned in a document of the Holy See dated 28 January 1377 of Pope Gregory XI, the last Avignon French pope, one year before his death ("Nobili mulieri Margarethe de Cereth, domine Valachiae Minoris"). The Franciscan and Dominican Friars are mentioned in a letter of King Bela IV of Hungary addressed to the Holy Roman emperor and king of Germany Konrad IV Hohenstaufen. The Hungarian king mentions the mass massacre by the Mongols in 1241 of the friars. This means that these two mendicant religious orders must have settled earlier in southern Moldavia and northern Wallachia, perhaps during the pontificate of Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241) whose Bull Cum hora undecima was a monument of Catholic proselytism by the initiator of the Papal Inquisition.

The same goes for the small village churches in northern Moldavia (late 15th-mid 17th cc) which have been on the List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1993 on account of their external and internal walls covered in fresco paintings on almost all sides (see infra), and which in addition may have free-standing bell-towers (Humor, Galata in Iasi, St Demetrios' church at Suceava, the church of St John the Baptist at Piatra Neamt, St George's at Harlau, the church at Popauti, county Botosani, St Nicholas' church at Radauti, the first stone church in Moldavia, mid-14th c., built by Prince Bogdan I, and St John the Baptist's church at Reuseni, both in county Suceava); the same is true of the fortified monasteries of Putna, Moldovita, Sucevita, Probota and Dobrovat where often the bell tower is the same as the gatehouse.

It goes without saying that the common type of church is the one with the bell-tower solid with the body of the building, usually rising above the main entrance (e.g. Balinesti, St Parascheva at Targu-Frumos and many others).

The church of Sucevita monastery, to give only one example, has both its exterior and interior walls entirely decorated with murals. Dragomirna church, by contrast, has preserved its frescoes only in the nave and the altar. As a rule, the paintings depicting Biblical scenes from the Old and New Testament or historical events (e.g. the Last Judgment and the Tree of Jesse at Voronet, or the Siege of Constantinople at Moldovita)

The event portrayed on the south wall of Moldovita, although anachronistically showing Turkish attire, is not concerned with the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, but with the ineffective siege laid by a combined army of Avars, Slavs and Sassanid Persians in 626 in the days of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. The underlying idea of the painting was that God Almighty had helped the Christians, so the message was religious, not political as many have thought.

have been better preserved in the interior, at the western facade, especially when protected by an overhanging roof (e.g. the Last Judgment at Voronet) and on the south side, the north side having been exposed to the destructive force of the winter rains, snows and the winds, so the colours are (much) faded or (completely) gone. The dominant colours are cerulean blue at Voronet ("Voronet blue"), reddish-brown and white at Humor, red at Arbore, yellow and blue at Moldovita ("Moldovita blue," resembling cobalt blue or Parisian blue), green and red at Sucevita. The palette of colours in frequent use here and there includes five shades of green, ochre and indigo.

The monasteries are fortified edifices used for defensive purposes, surrounded by tall and thick curtain walls with corner towers and a strong vaulted gatehouse (e.g. Sucevita, Moldovita, Dragomirna, Probota, Neamt, Rasca, Slatina). The churches of rectangular shape, even the shorter ones, are long in proportion to their width, and have been built to a three-apsidal plan of trefoil shape at the east end and on the north and south sides of the chancel, a feature of Byzantine architecture and of Byzantine-inspired architecture (Athonite, Serbian, Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian). Transepts are non-existent, being replaced by semicircular (or polygonal) north and south side apses at the level of the nave. The vast majority of them have side-entrances or even porches in order to allow space for the fresco paintings on the west front (Arbore, Probota, Sucevita and scores of others), although this feature has sometimes been retained for the unpainted churches as well. Such church buildings usually have an exonarthex which may be side open (Sucevita monastery, with its three lancet windows of the closed narthex at the west front, Moldovita monastery which is open at the west and south, Rasca monastery, St John the Baptist church at Siret, the Dormition church at Baia, St George's church at Harlau, Balinesti church at the first storey of its south tower, etc) or closed at the west facade (Voronet monastery, with its blank west wall, Sucevita monastery, closed at the west front, but open on the south and north sides which have porches with an arcade of ogee arches, an Islamic motif, St Demetrios' church at Suceava and Slatina monastery in Suceava county, both of which have three lancet windows and corner buttresses at the west facade, or Probota which has four lancets), while others still have their north and south walls extending westwards and uniting into an arcade at the top, thus creating an overhanging roof-covered space at the west end which could thus be painted all over (Voronet, Arbore) or left unpainted (Reuseni). It is generally the case that the c. 40 churches built during the reign of Prince Stephen the Great are without an exonarthex at the west front (e.g. Borzesti, Putna, Reuseni, Patrauti, Milisauti, Popauti, Dobrovat, Volovat, Dorohoi, Chilia, St John the Baptist at Piatra Neamt, St Elijah at Suceava etc.), while many of those erected in the times of his successor Peter Rares do (e.g. Probota, Moldovita, Humor, St Demetrios' in Suceava). Voronet and Harlau, founded by Stephen the Great, were originally without an exonarthex; the present ones were added under Peter Rares. The west front of Moldovita is pierced by three very tall arcades and a diminutive slightly pointed doorway below the middle arcade.

Those that have been founded by ruling princes (Stephen the Great, Peter Rares, Stephen Rares, Alexander Lapusneanu, Peter the Lame, Aaron the Tyrant, Jeremiah Movila, Basil Lupu, Stephen Petriceicu) have a steeple, while noblemen's (boyars') foundations are generally without a steeple (e.g. Arbore, Humor, Balinesti), an exception being Dragomirna church established by a metropolitan, which has the tallest steeple (42 m to the cross) of all the churches in northern Moldavia (South Bucovina province), or St Nicholas' church at Radauti which, although founded by Prince Bogdan I, has no steeple, doubtless because of its small size and its single continuous roof. The same is true, for instance, of the churches at Borzesti, Razboieni, Piatra Neamt, Dobrovat and Volovat, all four established by Stephen the Great, and for precisely the same reasons. Also exceptionally, a few princely foundations of substantial size have two steeples (e.g. Three Hierarchs' church and Galata church, both in Iasi, or St Nicholas' church at Rasca, county Suceava), or as many as seven (e.g. Golia church in Iasi, where, in addition, the side walls are supported by Renaissance Corinthian pilasters). It is also the case that a church covered by a single, continuous roof, is steepleless (see Radauti, Borzesti etc above), whereas steeples are common where the various sections of larger churches are roofed over separately, with one steeple placed above the nave (naos).

The typical Moldavian octagonal steeple rests on a star-shaped base (with 8, 12 or 16 points) which tops a larger square base, but at Slatina monastery (county Suceava) there is no underlying square base, while at Sucevita, Moldovita, Probota and Galata monasteries, at St George's church situated at Harlau (county Iasi), at St Demetrios' church in Suceava or at Popauti church in county Botosani, there are two superimposed stellar bases. St Nicholas' abbey church of the monastic settlement at Rasca in county Suceava has one two star-shaped base steeple over the naos and one stellar base steeple resting on a square base above the pronaos.

Smaller churches have shingle roofs or, occasionally, tin roofs, and no buttresses (Arbore, Humor, Patrauti, Sihastria monastery etc). Patrauti (county Suceava), though small, has a steeple, and is the oldest church founded by Stephen the Great, which has preserved its original form. On the other hand, Dobrovat abbey church, Stephen the Great's last foundation (1504) has no steeple, just like others of his foundations, e.g. Borzesti (1495) and Reuseni, one of his last (1503-1504).

Where buttresses exist, as in the West, they may be flat or stepped, supporting the side walls, the facade and even the eastern apse as at St Nicholas' church at Probota (county Suceava), St Demetrios' church in Suceava, at Three Hierarchs' church and at Galata church (both in Iasi), at Slatina monastery (county Suceava) which have all five a short buttress rising up to the level of the eastern apse window.

The building material for walls is stone, brick or a combination of the two. It is not uncommon for brick churches to have a stone foundation. Doors, windows, buttresses and archivolts are built in stone, steeples are brick, just like, occasionally, the upper section of the church. A few of the brick churches have been whitewashed in the course of time, while others have never been painted (e.g. the nicknamed White Church at Baia, county Suceava, or Aroneanu church, county Iasi).

Medieval Moldavia, although an autonomous and self-governing principality, was ruled by princes of noble origin (boyars) or even commoners who had sworn allegiance, as vassals, to the kings of Poland, a country with which it was sharing its northern frontier. As a consequence, economic, commercial and cultural ties between the two countries, one Orthodox, the other Catholic, were very strong, which explains why Poland, in relation to Moldavia, was a giver-nation in almost all matters cultural, including architecture. It is also a fact that a number of rulers of Wallachia and Moldavia held fiefs and demesnes in Transylvania. Another explanation for the presence of Gothic church architecture in Moldavia is the influx of Saxon population from Transylvania in the aftermath of the Mongol invasion of Central Europe in 1241 and the disastrous defeat of King Bela IV of Hungary and Croatia (see above) in April of that year in the battle of the Tisza River, the natural border between Romania and her westerly neighbour, Hungary.

As a curiosity on the anecdotal side showing the way the wheels of fortune turn the course of history, on the long list of princes of Moldavia, in addition to Stephen Razvan whose father was a Muslim gypsy from Turkey, there was one named Iancu Sasul (John the Saxon). His father was Prince Peter Rares, and his mother was the adulterous wife of a Transylvanian Saxon burgher of Brasov, Jurgen Weiss. Raised in Constantinople, he bribed with Venitian-borrowed money the Sultan Murad III into offering him the throne of Moldavia for three years (1579-1582), during which he amassed an enormous fortune. Very unpopular, hearing that he was going to be deposed by the Ottomans, he fled the country but was apprehended and decapitated at Lviv (then in Poland, now in Ukraine) at the behest of the same sultan who had placed him on the throne. This episode is emblematic of the sometime troubled relations between Moldavia and Poland, and particularly of the immense political power wielded by the Sublime Porte in relation to Catholic countries like Poland and Hungary.

The main distinguishing features of Gothic church architecture in Moldavia can be summarized as follows:

* Two types of building in plan:

a) rectangular, with straight wall lines and straight roof. Basilican and/or aisleless and transeptless. No steeple. Barrel vault. Loci classici: Radauti (three-aisled), Borzesti, Razboieni, Piatra Neamt, Dobrovat, Volovat (aisleless).

b) rectangular, elongated, (semicircular) triapsidal (north, east, south). Triconchial plan (trefoil plan). No side aisles and no transepts. One, two or more steeples. Loci classici: Reuseni and scores of other places, too numerous to list, practically everywhere.

A comparison between the two construction plans shows that they have one thing in common, viz. they are all without transepts, and this is the main feature of Moldavian churches, whether painted or unpainted.

* Gothic recessed portals with pointed arches and archivolts. Gothic window tracery. Buttresses.

* The eastern apse may be polygonal on the exterior and interior, as in Gothic architecture, unlike the Byzantine plan where it is polygonal outside, but semicircular inside, e.g. St Parascheva church at Dolhestii Mari (county Suceava).

* Tall, slender, graceful octagonal steeple(s) on the naos (and pronaos), in case of churches with their different longitudinal sections roofed over separately. Steeple(s) resting on one or two stellar bases above a square base.

* High vaults resulting from the superimposition of diagonal arches.

* Two types of wall decorations in elevation:

a) sculptural (blind arcading, niches, roundels) of a lacy aspect on the walls. Loci classici: Dragomirna (county Suceava), Three Hierarchs' (county Iasi).

b) fine mural painting. Loci classici: the seven painted churches in northern Moldavia on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

* Bell-tower placed above the main entrance or free-standing (campanile). Bells alternatively housed in the steeple.

* Stonework and/or brickwork.

* Most churches of the triapsidal trefoil plan have an exonarthex which is generally of the open type.


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Adrian Nicolescu

University of Bucharest

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Title Annotation:Many-voiced (ab)normality
Author:Nicolescu, Adrian
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Date:Jun 22, 2013
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