The Wooden Churches

The virtual tour of the Peasant Museum churches includes panoramas of the five wooden churches which are in the custody of the Museum, built outside the precinct: Groșii Noi, Julița and Troaș in Arad county, and Lunca Moților and Bejan in Hunedoara county. Two churches have been brought to Bucharest and exhibited: the one from Mintia, in the room “Reculegere” (Recollectedness), which can be seen on the tour of the permanent exhibition, and the one from Bejan, placed in the courtyard. The other four have been restored and taken care of and are preserved in situ.


Wooden churches are a collective and often anonymous work which reflects the socio-economic and historic conditions and proves a continuous spiritual life with old traditions. They are documents of doubtless authenticity not only through the elements of their composition, which reflect the unity of the Romanian people, but also through the role they played in the life of the Transylvanian Romanians: national tribune, school, art and culture institution, realities whose meaning harmoniously intertwines with their mission of grounding the nation.


In other words, wooden churches are a reality which is specific for the spiritual geography of the Romanian people, wherever they may be.


Wooden churches mirror the unity of the Romanians, fully supporting the statement of our great historian Nicolae Iorga: „The many-sided creation of our people is the same in all provinces”. At the same time, they are a convincing proof „that Romanians have felt at home all over the large Carpathian territory and that even in modern times, the process of splitting, taking over and denationalizing their ancestral possessions has unfortunately been done to the prejudice of our people”.


These churches played the role of an eyewitness to the ethnic process which took place in the Transylvanian settlements in the historical conditions of that time. Impoverished, lacking civil rights and the possibility to have their own school, after a yearlong resistance, Romanians were either denationalized, or chased away from their homeland. For those living in the villages on Mureş, Arieş and Târnave rivers, wooden churches have been witnesses of the denationalization and religious persecutions they were often subject to. This is the reason why the people saw in the wooden places of worship signs of their hope for national freedom.


From this perspective, we can understand the remarkable value of the churches on Mureş river: the one in Porumbeni, in whose wood we can still read the letters of the 16th century; the one in Văleni (previously Oaia), built in 1695-1696 under Protopope Toader “with the involvement and expense of the whole village”; the one in Păcureni or in Valea (previously Iobăgeni), built from the ground “by the honest villagers, in the place of the ruined one”; the one in Sântandrei – Miercurea Nirajului.


From the depth of history, wooden churches have brought with them building systems, types of plans, decorative models, elements by which they stand as documents of the molding, existence and permanence of the Romanian people and of its creativity. As they are peasant work, they have much in common with the traditional house: the size is similar to that of a house, they are made of the same raw material (wood), with the same techniques (of the „blokbau” type or „in wreaths”). Regarding the building plan, the wooden church, like the one made of brick, includes: the pronaos, the nave and the altar, placed in the longitudinal axis of the building, to which they sometimes add the porch or the stoop (as it happens most of the times in Transylvania, but also in Oltenia, Muntenia and Moldova). These monuments have a remarkable architectonic unity, in which the knowledge of using the space becomes visible in lines and volumes which express force and grace, audacity but also balance and moderation.


The decor, too, is similar to that of peasant houses (from the massive dormers of wood whose endings are often molded in the shape of a stylized horsehead, to the ends of the roof timbers which support the cornice, we notice the display of the same ornamental system). Thus, next to linear motives and geometric compositions (rhombuses, circles, rosettes) we encounter vegetal motives (flowers, vines, trees) made by notching or painted in polychromy. The decor with religious symbols, almost always pictural (images of saints, angels or scenes from the Christological Cycle), made by peasant painters, obeys the same laws of balance and measure.


Some aspects regarding the workmanship or the iconographic display are imposed by special forms of wood architecture and by the manner of preparing this material to be used as a support of a “durable adornment”. The painting work usually includes the iconostasis and the icons, the altar, the vaults or the images of the founders. Regarding the technique, we often encounter tempera on bare wood, on canvas, tempera on spackled wood or even fresco on wood covered with a layer of plaster.


The series of pictures in the wooden churches from Arad (Groşii Noi, Juliţa and Troaş) and Hunedoara (Lunca Moţilor and Bejan) are a telling proof of the peasant painters’ craftsmanship. Although the iconographic ensemble of these churches was initially quite rich, today it only comprises scenes from the Christological Cycle: The Last Supper, The Trial and Excruciation of Jesus, The Way to Golgotha, The Bearing of the Cross, The Crucification and Mourning of the Saviour.


At the same time, episodes from The Genesis have been preserved in several tondi, as well as the image of Mary with the Child and Mary Oranta, enframed by archangels and flights of angels, images of prophets and female martyrs, in arcade decor, Archangels Michael and Gabriel surrounded by flights of angels.


From a stylistic point of view, the painting of these churches is a synthesis between Byzantine and Gothic elements (the Gothic component will gradually become paler and the Byzantine one stronger, on the background of the new evolution of the Romanian society in Transylvania, able to maintain active relations with The Romanian Principalities, where the development of the arts was benefitting from the substantial contribution of the Byzantine experiences.)


The small „architectural reservation” composed of the wooden churches from Groşii Noi, Juliţa and Troaş (Arad) and Lunca Moţilor (Hunedoara), which has been in the custody of the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant since 1991, is part of a more extensive plan of the museum, initiated with the purpose of re-establishing the ties with the land and the institutions of the traditional village.