Daniela Marcu-Istrate
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This is a book about the region commonly known as Transylvania, situated in central-western Romania. During the Middle Ages, this region was part of the Kingdom of Hungary, but was in fact located on a confessional and ethnic frontier, between Orthodox and Catholic Europe, and in an area of bewildering ethnic and linguistic variety. Both factors were responsible for giving the region its distinct character of a borderland. One of the most significant forms of expression of that character was religion and religious architecture: court chapels, baptisteries, cathedrals, as well as parish and abbey churches were erected during the Middle Ages for the Catholic and Orthodox populations. The ecclesiastical landscape was a complicated one. The first churches were built in the 10th century, under the influence of Byzantine architecture, but, after becoming the easternmost province of the Kingdom of Hungary, the religious landscape was dominated by Central European influences and most churches were built in Romanesque and Gothic styles. However, the interferences were numerous, the provincial interpretations obvious, and the result a very particular one for the geographical context in which it is located.

Of the over ca. 1300 churches built during the Middle Ages, very few have survived to this day in their original fabric. The early buildings of the 12th–

13th centuries were often changed during the 13th–15th centuries, for various reasons, being rebuilt, modified, or fortified. Many of them have disappeared; many redundant churches still survive, but without hope, in bad condition. However, there is still a huge ecclesiastical heritage, which offers a complex and unique perspective on medieval life in between Latin Europe and the Byzantine cultural sphere.

Every church stores a complex set of information, beyond what the building itself could be. The history of the construction, with all its sides, the fittings and facilities, the relation with the cemetery, the religious services, and the associated material culture – all of these are just parts of a complex and self-functioning mechanism. In understanding the medieval church, the role of archaeology is extremely important, especially for a region without much written history, as Transylvania has been. However, this book is only an introduction into the archaeology of Transylvanian churches, including the shaping of the medieval ecclesiastical landscape and the basic architectural development. Many aspects that I would like to insist on are still undetermined, requiring interdisciplinary studies and a collective approach. Nevertheless, I have tried to build an accurate archaeological image on the topic, based on updated state-of-the-art excavations and publications.

Many of the examples I use to illustrate the story come from my own excavations, some of them mentioned here for the first time. Still, this book is based on the work of many scholars. In this regard, it is worth remembering the papers published during the first part of the 20th century, because, in many respects, their level has not been matched later on.

Working for almost 30 years now as a main archaeologist, I have been lucky having many enthusiastic teammates and colleagues, mainly archaeologists, but art historians, architects, and engineers as well, and I would especially thank to Ioan Fedor Pascu, Angel Istrate, Gabriel Izdrăilă, Sebastian Dobrotă, Cosmin Roman, Péter Szőcs, Radu Lupescu, Zoltán Katocz, Delia Maria Roman, Daniela Tănase, Horea Pop, Anca Matiș, Cristian Florescu, Maria Crîngaci Țiplic, Paul Scrobotă, Horațiu Groza, Florin Mărginean, Zsolt Csók, Cosmin Rusu, Attila Weisz, Emese Nagy Sarkadi, Márton Sarkadi, Ionuț Codrea, Emanoil Pripon, Georgeta ElSusi, and many others.

I thank András Kovács, for giving me the unbelievable chance to study St Michael’s Cathedral in Alba Iulia; Cristoph Machat, for his courage to choose an independent and very young archaeologist for the archaeology of the Church on the Hill in Sighișoara; and Marianne Dumitrache, my first model in the archaeology of churches, for her decades-long support, and for being still so close to my projects.

I am also grateful to the colleagues who directly supported the completion of the illustration, namely Radu Lupescu, Angel Istrate, Péter Szőcs, Ioana Munteanu Zărnescu, Maria Crîngaci Țiplic, Cosmin Roman, Răzvan Pop, Cristian Anghelescu, and Sanda Salontai. Many thanks also to Cristina Bodó, Diana Jegar and Carmen Borbely for some translations, and to Sebastian Ovidiu Dobrotă, for major contributions to illustration, index, and not only.

Last, but not least, I especially thank Professor Florin Curta from the University of Florida, who has always been a friend and a model for me, has constantly encouraged me, and waited patiently for the final step in the writing, very delayed compared to the starting expectations.

It was, in fact, his idea, mentioned firstly in 2015, to prepare this book. After a too short a period of consideration, I enthusiastically accepted the challenge, and planned for a January 2017 deadline, which was not realistic at all. Along the way, there were circumstances that pulled me away from the manuscript, of which the most important was, in 2018–2021, the opportunity for archaeological excavations within the Evangelical church in Sibiu, the second most important church of Transylvania’s medieval heritage. However, it was a journey as fascinating as it was twisted, and many of the decisions I made to simplify and systematize the material were quite stressful, because almost every church has something special, something interesting, and something to say in the matter.

The first version of this book was submitted in April 2020, and the reviewed manuscript came back four months later. I must thank the first reviewer for his (or her) suggestions for balancing some interpretations and discussions. Many thanks to the second reviewer for his (or her) constructive comments, valuable suggestions, and effective help in improving the structure of the book, stressing some parts, and in general making the text more fluent.

Hălmeag – Brașov

30 September 2021

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