Some Art in Transylvania!

Have you ever heard of Cluj-Napoca? (Me neither until recently.)  Well, it’s the unofficial capital of Transylvania, the most famous region of Romania.

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Yes, like that kids’ movie. But IRL.

I stopped by the other day for a visit, right after Thanksgiving.

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Europe puzzles over America sometimes, and not without reason.

Transylvania has historically been the stronghold of Romanian Catholics (and Hungarian Catholics living in Romania), with most of the country being Eastern Orthodox. The Reformation took its toll on the region, with Saxon influences leaving most if not all of the countryside’s beautiful fortified churches Lutheran.

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The Orthodox cathedral. By the way, Romanians apparently LOVE their flag. It was all over the place.

Anway. I popped into the Greek-Catholic cathedral, which happened to be having a service of some kind. It was PACKED – on a Saturday morning… Didn’t look like a funeral or wedding. No photos from inside, and no apologies for it!

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But now check out the Latin Catholic church in Cluj’s city center, Sfântul Mihail (St. Michael):

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And yes, that’s a Christmas market going up in the corner.

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Setting up a Christmas market in the square outside! How quaint, right?

The church – which is actually not a cathedral despite its size and its city’s cultural centrality in the region – has a checkered history. It was originally Catholic when it was built in the mid 1400’s, then became Lutheran during the Reformation. Shortly after that it was taken over by the Unitarians. Finally the Catholics recovered it in the early 18th century with the support of the Habsburgs.

And now, behold, the largest Advent wreath I have ever feasted my eyes upon…

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Eastern Europe doesn’t have fire codes I guess. #awesome

The Gothic influence was as obvious on the inside as on the outside. It was also obvious that I would not be able to spend too long there staying still, since the place was not heated – cold enough to see your breath! And yet there were still people showing up to pray. Maybe there is a lesson here… Spend more resources on putting fire in people’s hearts than on putting fire in a furnace. (Really, every church I visited had people there PRAYING. Saturday morning and afternoon.)

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Looking over the Novus Ordo altar. You’ll notice the patron in the stained glass above the high altar. I’m generally not a fan of carpets in church, but this was done nicely.

The ambo, on the left side of the nave, was a real treat. I really just couldn’t get enough of it. (It’s even the background on my phone now.) The detail was exquisite!

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This little organ was cool too. Not sure if it’s functional, as there was also a set of pipes in the choir loft.

The wall used to be covered with frescoes, but if I remember correctly what I think I overheard someone saying during a private tour, they got messed up during the Reformation. Here’s part of what’s left:

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Another look at the sanctuary (and the ambo!) before leaving:

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Also there was this thing in the cramped antechamber before the nave:

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Later I saw it in action. A narthex greeter never looked so official!

Off to the Franciscan church I went. The architecture of the city was a bizarre mix of old and new. For example, compare the buildings at this intersection (left) with the library (right):

The Modernism of course comes from the Communism that once infected Eastern Europe. There were some monuments around the city remembering that time and its characters.

No Commies in the Franciscan church. Take a look for yourself!

This was far more baroque or rococo (barocacoco?)… I enjoyed it quite a bit – despite having the same bone chilling temperature as St. Michael’s.

The royal blue, off-white, and gold color scheme definitely worked for me. The use of carpet did not.

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Completely unnecessary stairs: devotional faux-pas or picturesque piety? You decide.

Back out into the city. Here are some other churches, probably all Orthodox (except for the clearly iconoclastic Reformed one):

Hey, what’s that thing with a Cross up on the hill?

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Over the Someșul Mic River, and up the Cetățuia hill to find out…

The monument was nothing too interesting, just another anti-Commie structure. But the view was fantastic.

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And not a sparkling, angsty, hundred-year-old teenager in sight.

With not much left to do, I wandered through the suburbs down the side of the hill.

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I don’t know what the triangular sign means, but I like it.

I wrapped up the day with a nice sit in the city’s central park and buried myself in an oversized helping of kürtőskalács. (Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce it, it means you’re normal. The lady serving it even gave me a funny look when I tried.)

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This thing was HUGE. Tasted a bit like a churro, maybe not as sweet. Delicious.

That just about did it for me. Off to the airport the next day, where I was bombarded by the Duty Free shop with Dracula-you-name-it, including wines of every sort.

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It kind of ruins the fun, like a girl who knows she’s beautiful.

While the outer part of the city (where I stayed) was pretty bleak, I found the center part of “Treasure City,” as it’s called, rather energetic and pleasant. And cold. But the religious spirit of the place was edifying. I was even asked for my last name and my “Christian name” when checking in at my hotel! Can you imagine? All in all, a worthwhile excursion.

And with that, I peaced out on Wizz Air. (It’s real, trust me.)

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Post by: Eamonn Clark

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