Brasov, Romania, with a population of 284,000, holds some outstanding sights, of which perhaps the most famous is The Black Church. The church is a stone’s throw from the open southeast corner of Piata Sfatului, the square at the heart of the historic center of this beautiful Transylvanian city.
The proud church dominates: a looming bulk, 89 meters in length and 38 meters in width, its massive roof hunched up against the pretty clock tower at the end furthest from the square. The church is open every day from 10am to 3.30pm. Built between 1385 and 1477, The Black Church is a great example of late Gothic architecture – check out the ornate decorations in the five portals around its outside. It is used by German-speaking Lutherans, and has been ever since that version of Christianity reached Brasov in 1542. Before that, it was used by German-speaking Catholics.
Officially the church of the Virgin Mary, the church gained its nickname after a fire in 1689 left only a black shell. It was nearly a century later that the building was restored, with its current interior vaulting. But it was not until a late 20th century round of restoration, which lasted three decades, that the soot was removed from the exterior, leaving the church pale brown.
The inside of the church is more delicate and airy than the hulking exterior would suggest, and contains wooden pews painted with signs representing the workers’ guilds that sat there. You can even see some parishioners’ names, with symbols of those people’s trades: locksmiths’ pistols and padlocks, weavers’ bobbins, and carpenters’ dividers.
More than 100 prayer rugs hang inside the church, adding a red warmth to the inviting atmosphere. Brasov merchants would bring these back from trips to the East, donating them to the church to thank God for bringing them back safely. Sometimes, too, rugs were seized, as a strange sort of tax, from foreign traders who passed through the city.
One of the oldest things in the church is the font, made from bronze by a local caster in 1450. In the middle of the church, you will find a gorgeous, stone-carved pulpit, dating from 1696. Its carvings include a figure of Moses holding his Ten Commandments, and a tree of life. On a pillar directly opposite the pulpit is a painted relief of the Brasov city emblem – the crown with the tree roots. There is also a picture of Martin Luther hanging on the pillar.
Talking of Lutheranism, in the right side-nave you can see a painting celebrating the Transylvanian reformation, which was spearheaded by Johannes Honterus. The painting shows Honterus and city councilmen, who are swearing an oath to adopt Reformation teachings, something that they did in 1543.
Honterus is further honored with the imposing bronze figure standing outside the Black Church. The statue was erected 400 years after his birth, in 1898. Honterus was actually born in Brasov, and he used the city as his base when he spread Lutheranism throughout Transylvania’s German speakers, having discovered it himself during studies in western Europe. He was influential for another reason, as well, as the creator of the first published map of Transylvania.
Written by and photos David Hill for EuropeUpClose.com