So I have this thing about sacred art and architecture. And in all my travels to see religious art in situ, I’ve never experienced sacred spaces as unique as the wooden Churches of Maramureş in Northern Transylvania. During 1000 or so years Hungarians ruled Maramureş, they forbid the Orthodox Romanians from building churches in stone. As a delightful result, a distinct style of wooden churches developed and continue to be built today. Many of the churches are quite well preserved and eight are UNESCO World Heritage Sights.
Visiting the wooden churches is informal: you show up and call the phone number listed on the church door. A neighbor lady pops over with a key and lets you look around as long as you’d like.
This beauty is the church of Deseşti, built in 1770. See–there’s a lookout platform on the tall spire and a roof with two skirts.
A shape of a cross in the shingles
Deseşti’s West entry with wall paintings by Radu Munteanu.
The holy guys in the fresco are sitting on some super-cool chairs, but in Orthodox church services the congration stands throughout.
I don’t remember the part in the crucifixion story where bodiless winged heads flew next to Christ’s head while dudes in exotic hats tied him to the cross.
You’ll notice the text is in Cyrillic—the Romanian alphabet was switched to it’s present Latin form in the 1860’s.
God, with his righteous three-point halo, pulls Eve from Adam’s rib. The symbollic red middle finger of God swoops out from a sky portal in the upper right.
Just levitating above a moon boat, no big deal.
This section of the wall paintings, showing Sodom and Gomorrah, was my favorite. An angel wielding a pitchfork chases the naughty sinners out of town. The buildings of Sodom and Gomorrah are painted upside down, to show just how far the town had fallen into decadence.
The checkerboard buildings, the four point stars, the flowered border: LOVE LOVE LOVE!
Deseşti church and the other wooden churches we visited in Maramureş, are warm, entirely accessible sacred spaces. The walls are covered with wool rugs and embroidered cloths drape the icons. They are the religious equivalent of a worn flannel bathrobe: cozy and homey. The churches fit perfectly in the landscape of hand-tilled farms, haystacks and the occasional aerial stork nest. No stone carvings and soaring stained glass windows to impress you here, but lively painting and friendly spirituality—oh yeah, they’ve got it going on in spades.
How we got to Maramureș: Florin from Casa Muntean picked us up in Sighisoara.
Where we slept: Casa Muntean. Price: €18 for a double. Recommended: highly.
Where we slept: Village Hotel. Price: €30 for a double. Recommended: highly.