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The Foundation of Christianity,

Cultic Places

Christianity as a world-religion was founded by Jesus Christ. Due to the tireless work of the Apostles, it spread rapidly. It came into being in Palestine during the first half of the first century.

The early, oldest Christian congregations made contact with the Jews living in Diaspora beyond the borders of Palestine during and after the years of the Jewish wars (66-70 A.D.). After the unsuccessful Jewish uprising and the devastation of Palestine in 70 A.D., the Jewish-Christian religious communities suffered great losses and diminished in numbers.

The dispersed people were looking for and took refuge in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. At this time, numerous Jews lived outside of Palestine, mainly in the commercial centres, like Damascus, Antioch, Athens, Corinth, in the larger towns of the costal district of Asia Minor as well as in Rome.

By crossing the borders of Palestine, Christianity had to break with the Judaic roots in order to avoid becoming a small Jewish sect. At the same time, pagans joined them in growing numbers. The first stage of Christianity, i.e. the Early Christianity lasted from the founding of the first Christian congregations until the emergence of Paulinism.

Paulinism made a radical change in the lives of the first Christians. It also determined their further destiny. The bases of the united Christian Church came into being.

It was almost impossible to build Christian cultic places during the times of persecution of Christians, at the time of early Christianity. Their religious ceremonies were performed in their underground cemeteries and catacombs, which also served as their hiding-places. While avoiding the dangers of threatening conflicts, they lived by their spiritual values by withdrawing into themselves and helping each other. By locking themselves into their family homes and avoiding showy formalities, they celebrated the mystery; they were one in prayer and in Mass or Communion, as it was assigned by Christ [1].

The believers of the new faith, which spread in the world of the Jewish Diaspora, got together in the home of a wealthy co-religionist, usually on the upper floors. It happened sometimes that the whole building served the community. The best examples of the early Christian places were found under the cathedral of San Giovanni e Paolo in Rome, or in Dura-Europos, in Syria, where a dwelling house-church (domus ecclesiae) was found under the ruins of a city devastated by the Partuses in 265 [2].

Constantine the Great, the Greaco-Roman Emperor (247-337 A.D.), recognizing the power and opportunity in the foundation of Christianity, reached an arrangement with the Christian Church in 313 A.D. He officially recognized, and guaranteed the freedom of the Christian Church. In his famous Milanese Ordinance (rescriptum), the Emperor ordered that all the places where Christians used to gather, and all the goods belonging juridically to the folds (ecclesiae) were to be handed back to the Christian communities without any payment or compensation.

A huge amount of money was put at the bishops' disposal for the purpose of church building. According to the new law, the former pagan temples and estates of the holy places were given to the Christian Church. The edictum (ordinance issued by the emperor) started the building of Christian churches on the whole territory of the Roman Empire.

Christian temples were built everywhere. Constantine built the first Christian cathedral in Rome. This building was later named San Giovanni Cathedral. The construction of the Saint Peter Basilica started in 325 over the tomb of Peter the Apostle. The sacred place remained the centre of Christianity until the times of Pope Julius II. (1503-1513). By the end of the third century, the number of congregations has increased considerably.

At the beginning of the fourth century half of the population was Christian in Asia Minor, Armenia and Ciprus. A significant number of Christians lived in Syria (Antiochia), Egypt (Alexandria and Thebes), Rome, South and Central Italy, Africa, on the Iberian peninsula, on the northern part of Italy, in Gaul and in the provinces along the Danube river. Theodosius (346-395), Holy Roman Emperor from 381 A.D., made Christianity the official state religion and started to suppress the pagans. Christianity left its catacomb life once and for all in the fifth century A.D. The church building of Constantine continued. The cathedral was the main form of churches built.

With the death of Theodosius in 395, the Holy Roman Empire was finally divided into two parts, the Western and the Eastern Empires. After that year, the Eastern-Roman Empire (Byzantium) lasted for more than one thousand years as an independent historical formation.

The Western-Roman Empire came to an end during the years of the Great Migrations due to the endless attacks of barbarians. The Empire was devastated by the Huns in the fifth century, and the southward movements of the Slavs immediately begun from the territories of present day Poland. They managed to reach the Elbe River in the west, the Danube in the southwest. During the sixth century they got into Pannonia, Thrace and Macedonia.

The Western-Roman Empire was gradually replaced by the newly founded Christian feudal states. As the consequences of the division of the Roman Empire, the Greek-Catholic (Orthodox) Church took shape in the east, and was strongly intertwined with the state. At the same time, the Papal supreme power was developed in the Western Church.

Christianity, as we have seen, used to be a persecuted religion. The northern banks of the Danube River known by the name Dacia Traiana (part of later Transylvania, and Oltenia) were the only exceptions to the persecutions after 271 A.D., when Aurelianus withdrew his legions and colonuses (settlers) from those territories. The exception lasted for a couple of decades, until the first flocks of migrating people, the Goths, appeared.

If there had been a Romanized population on these territories, the houses of congregations (domus ecclesiae) or cathedrals of theirs would have been built. However, there are no buildings or even traces of these to be found. Neither do we have any documents or other data proving their existence, even though - it is needless to say - after the withdrawal of the Roman legions in 271, until the appearance of the first barbarian people, the Goths, Christianity could spread free of pressure of any kind and persecution by the Roman administration in Dacia Traiana.

When discussing the theory of Daco-Roman continuity, it is necessary to investigate the situation also south of the lower Danube, in the Balkan Peninsula. Let us give a broad outline of the Byzantine Church Architecture and the architecture affected by the Byzantine style in the 4th-12th centuries in addition to works of art and other paintings parallel to the spread of Christianity.

We have already referred to the first Christian Churches built by Constantine and Theodosius. The Byzantine art's most outstanding architectual work, the monumental Hagia Sophia (532-537), was built in Constantinople during the reign of Justinianus, Eastern-Roman Emperor (482-565). The construction of the San Vitale Cathedral in Ravenna, financed by a rich Syrian banker, Julianus Argentarius, started before 532 and ended in 547.

The Bulgarians adopted Christianity in 865. According to a Greek source from the 11th century, their reigning Prince Boris I. (852-889) ordered the building of seven churches already in the same year, i.e. in 865. The era's biggest church, the Great Basilica is the most important art work of the Bulgarian architecture from the 9th-10th centuries. The John the Baptist Church in Nesebar, on the shore of the Black Sea, was built in the tenth century. The most monumental and most imposing relic of the Bulgarian architecture, the monastery of Rila was built between 927 and 942 in a small basin on the southern slope of the Maljovica. The second oldest monastery built in 1070, can be found in the environs of Tirnovo.

At the beginning of the 10th century there were no other states in the area which would have been able to compete with the strength and power of the Bulgarian state. The state's main goal was the full conquest of Byzantium. However, after the death of Tsar Simeon and the long military campaigns, the country's economical and military power became so weak that the State's internal order could not be restored. The Bulgarian State totally collapsed in 1018. The once great Bulgarian Empire became one of Byzantium's provinces. A considerable part of the monasteries were destroyed - especially in the surroundings of Pliska and Preslav, by the endless attacks of the raiding barbarian tribes from the North.

The Saint Demeter Church was built in Tirnovo, the capital, in 1186. After the foundation of the second Bulgarian Empire (1185), the tradition has it that the Saint Peter and Paul Monastery was also built during the second Bulgarian Empire on the Arbanas Mountain. According to the legend the Saint Elias monastery of in Plakovo was also built during the second Bulgarian State. In Skripu near Athens, in Greece, another monastery, originated from 873-874, can be found. According to an early Russian chronicle, Vladimir, great reigning Prince of Kiev (980), entrusted ten scientists to travel around other people's territories and survey the great religions such as the Muslim, Christian and Greek- Catholic. The scientists gave accounts to the Prince of the monumental Hagia Sophia's fascinating beauty in Constantinople [3]. According to a chronicle, the great reigning prince converted - on the scientists' recommendation - to Greek-Catholicism with his people. The Russians had already known Christianity, since the Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Kiev has been mentioned since 882.

Vladimir ordered all his subjects to embrace Christianity in 988-989. Under the reign of his son, Jaroslav the Wise, 1019-1054, the Hagia Sophia Cathedral was erected in Kiev. The Saint George Cathedral was built between 1119 and 1130, while the construction of the Saint Demeter Church in Vladimir-Suzdal lasted from 1194 to 1197. Building of additional churches was prevented by the Tartar conquests.

After the Byzantine style church architecture, let us examine the Byzantine art, which exerted a considerable influence on remote territories of the earth.

Byzantine masters made the mosaics of the Hagia Sophia Church in Kiev between 1037 and 1061. The frescos in Vladimir were painted around 1195. The Norman kings of Sicily built their churches with Byzantine masters between 1143 and 1200. The San Marco Cathedral was patterned after the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Its earliest mosaics from the 11th century are also Byzantine masters' work. The gold and enamel Pala d'Oro of the high altar is also an art work from Constantinople. Fresco painting at the end of the 12th century met very high standards in Cyprus under the Byzantine governors' reign [4].

We have to go deeply into the question of the Byzantine church architecture and works of art, because their trend setting spread to the Balkan Peninsula. We will have to look for Vlach (Rumanian) church constructions. We have to look for the Vlach Orthodox chapels and churches of the 7th-12th centuries along the southern and northern banks of the Danube River. If we accept some Rumanian statements, the Rumanian cultic places shall also be found in Transylvania. We have to look for these cultic places especially from the first half of the 9th century.

Prince Krum, Bulgarian ruler, captured some bishops, priests and Christians sometime around 812. He forcibly relocated them to the left bank of the Danube, where they converted a lot of Bulgarians to orthodox Christianity. Around 870, Dacia Traiana and a part of Transylvania also were placed under the authority of Boris who ruled Bulgaria. If Daco-Romans (Rumanians) had lived there, they would have had to yield to the brutal Bulgarian force used against them and convert to Orthodox Christianity. However, we cannot find any contemporary traces of Vlach church architecture, neither on the Balkans nor in Transylvania. The historical sources do not mention the "Romanized Dacians" or the Rumanians in Dacia until the 12th century, although numerous sources talk about the Vlach people on the Balkan Peninsula since the 10th century (976).

Considering the monumental paintings of the Byzantine Empire in the "successor" states, such as Serbia, Bulgaria and Trapezunt, it can be said that there is no mention of the artistic impact of those paintings on the territories north of the Danube. This would not have been imaginable, if the Rumanians, as native people, had lived in Dacia Traina and the other areas in question during the 11th-12th centuries. As the influence of Byzantine art had reached Hungary, for example Szekszárd, it undoubtedly should have reached Dacia Traina also.

The state founding Magyars had some contacts with the Christians before they settled in the Carpathian Basin. The fact, that they did not devastate the cultic places can be explained by their good relationship with the Christians. If the Magyar conquerors had found such Daco-Roman cultic places in Transylvania, those cultic places with their Christian followers would have survived the original invasion of the Magyars as they did in Hungary. These circumstances indicate the Balkan link to the orthodox clerical organizations of the Rumanians; the Bulgarian-Slav liturgical language and the language of the Royal Chancellery; and several features of the early Rumanian culture referring to the close Bulgarian-Slav relationship [5].

The first Rumanian state organizations were founded several hundred years later than those of the surrounding peoples: Wallachia in the second half of the 13th century, and at the beginning of the 14th century; Moldavia at the beginning and the middle of the 14th century.

The Hungarian conquerors took possession of a territory having considerable artistic tradition [6]. The ruins of the Roman province and the art of the Slavs living within the boundaries of the Hungarian State increased the artistic culture of the Hungarians. The same can hardly be said about the Vlachs. The oldest Rumanian Orthodox church was built in the 13th century, it can be found in Demsus. According to Károly Kós "...it is a primitive Rumanian art-work of Byzantine style" [7]. László K_váry said: "It is probably a crypt raised over an early Christian church, the Longinus' ruins...Considering its size it is very small even for a Vlach church [8]. It is one of the most marvellous and oldest buildings in our country [historical Hungary]. Its steeple originated from the 10th century. Some of our historians think that it is a Roman church, while others believe it is of Gothic origin."

The church, as we have mentioned, was built in the 13th century. This in accordance with the fact that a Hungarian document, which mentions a Rumanian population in Southern Transylvania for the first time, originated from 1210 [9]. The late date of the building of the first Vlach church indicates that there were no Vlach inhabitants in Transylvania in the period of the Hungarian settlement, and that the first Vlachs could not have appeared in the area before the 12th century.

Neither the Roman society and its institutions, nor the settlements' continuity can undoubtedly be determined. In the one-time Roman cities, where traces of German and Avar settlements can be found, cemeteries and different buildings are providing proof that people used up parts of the ruined cities as building material for their houses [10].

Mircea P_curariu, professor of the Theological University in Nagyszeben (Sibiu) [11], states, "In Doboka (D_bîca), near Kolozsvár, some Christian churches that originated from the 10th-11th centuries, were newly discovered." He did not state, what kind of churches are in question. Since he considers that these churches were built in the 10th-11th centuries, they must in all likelihood have been Hungarian churches. P_curariu would probably talk about the churches in greater details, if he could consider them of Rumanian origin.

The Vlach churches between the 14th and 17th centuries, following that of Demsus, were built by the Moldavian and Wallachian voivodes, vassals of Hungary, on the estates in fee granted to them by the Hungarian kings and the Hungarian voivodes in Transylvania. (We will talk about them later in chapter VII.)

Nicolae Stoicescu writes [12] that Christian cemeteries, originating from the time before the Árpád's conquest of Hungary, were found in Dacia, in a part of present day Transylvania. Such tombs might have been found, but this does not necessarily mean that they belonged to Rumanians, since there were Christians among the peoples of the Great Migration, and they were buried as Christians. Objects, indicating their Christian belief, were placed with their bodies.


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