24 feb. 2015

The Unitarian church in the small community of Darjiu in Harghita County is the only monument in the county included on the UNESCO list but also the only objective of this type in the country in whose bastions the locals keep their bacon, grain and even...their plum brandy.

Darjiu is located in the south-west of Harghita County, some 20 km from the city of Odorheiu Secuiesc and even if the road to it is not the best in the world, the view that accompanies you up to village can offset any shortfall. Meadows filled with flowers, green forests, and if you are lucky, even the possibility to meet some deer.

As you approach the village, you start noticing the tower of the fortified church situated right in the middle of the village and surrounded by houses with flowers at windows and gardens full of vegetables. The church is the pride of the locals, which keeps the community united and has brought fame overseas to the village. 


The church was declared a UNESCO monument in 1999 due to its mural paintings dating from the 15th century and also due to a unique custom. In the bastions of the fortress-church, locals are keeping, even now, as the time of the Tartar invasions, bacon, grain and more recently, plum brandy. In the bastion-rooms, bigger or smaller pieces of bacon hang from wooden nails, but also other meats. A family can have a nail or even more and, in the past times, the number of nails showed also the social status of the owner.

Every Wednesday at dawn, the church's bells announce the people, as hundreds of years ago, that they can go to take the food left in the bastions. Each woman or man cuts from his or her bacon or lard a piece large enough for a whole week. And that because they know they will not have access there before next Wednesday.

We reached Darjiu on Wednesday and Pal Erno was already in a bastion to take home a piece of bacon. The man told us that he tried to keep the bacon in the freezer, but the taste is not as good as that which it gets if it is kept in the bastion. That is because of the constant temperature, due to the 1-m walls and the salty air. 'This custom dates back to the time of the Tatar invasion. Then, the villagers brought all the food into the bastions of the church and we inherited the custom from our ancestors. I have three nails which I inherited from my father, he inherited them from his grandfather and so on. Every spring (...) we bring the lard and the bacon into the bastions, because it preserves there very well, better than in the freezer. Over the centuries, a layer of salt deposited on the floor of the bastions and because of that the air is salty, as if we were at the seashore. Besides, the stone walls of the bastions are almost one meter thick and the temperature is constant,' said Pal Erno. 


The man told that, many years ago, as his parents told him, someone stole from the bacon and, as punishment, his nail and the right to use the bastion were taken away from him. 'To have your nail and the right to use the bastion removed was a great disgrace. And, ever since, nobody has ever tried to cut from somebody else's bacon,' said Pal Erno.

Also the tourists can participate in the bacon-cutting ceremony and can even taste the traditional dishes. All they have to do is announce their presence ahead of time and pay a certain fee. In large wooden crates, lined on the corridor of defence, locals keep also their grains, more recently, housewives also store the plum brandy, because they say it is safe there and men are away from temptations. 'We have two nails, inherited from our grandparents. I have attended this ceremony since I was little girl and I used to come with my mother. Today is Wednesday and I have come to take lard and I know exactly how much I have to cut because a good housewife knows how much she needs for a week. Lately we have brought here also the plum brandy, because it is safe here, and it can be taken from the church only once a week,' said Kerestely Katalin, a local from the village.

Declared a UNESCO monument, it houses valuable mural paintings 
The Unitarian church in Darjiu was received in the UNESCO heritage in 1999, along with five other fortified churches in Transylvania. It was built in the Romanesque style, with the construction works started in 1274 and ended in the late 15th century. Later on, it was modified in the Gothic style. The church's fortifying was brought about by invasions. 


'About these constructions we do not have accurate data, but it is assumed that they are based on the fortified Saxon churches, the most obvious similarity being with Buzd, near Sebes, which dated from 1523,' explains architect Tovissi Zolt.

In the 16th century, the construction of the building is developed with the enclosure wall and bastions after the model of the fortification in Cloasterf, Mures County. According to the mentioned source, it is assumed that, most likely, the completion of the enclosure wall and the bastions took place only in the early 17th century, after the church and the fortress' walls were destroyed by Austrian forces. Also destroyed then was the dwelling in Darjiu of nobleman Petki János, Chancellor of Transylvania. Since 1606, Petki János, along with villagers, worked to restore the buildings destroyed by the Austrians, including the church, and he also financed the works. From that period date also the crenels and holes for throwing pitch or boiled water.

Since 1662, a sundial on one of the towers measures the passage of time over the fortress-church and the villagers.

The most valuable elements of the church are the mural paintings dating from 1419. Despite being largely destroyed, they depict the 'Legend of St. Ladislaus,' this fresco being the best—preserved one, but also 'Conversion of the Apostle Paul,' 'Archangel Michael' or 'Saul's Journey to Damascus.' The mural paintings are considered by specialists as being some of the most impressive medieval creations in Transylvania.

Inside the church's fortifications there is a museum with old furniture, school desks, objects used in the day-to-day activities of the locals, but also tools and measurement units. Tourists who come here can buy jams made by the housewives in Darjiu.

'Tourists are interested in the church, the village, the daily activities or how the people make their living. (...) Every year, around 6,000 tourists visit us, from May to October, in the tourist season. Some 90 percent are from Hungary, but they also come from America, from China and from Romania especially young people come,' explains tourist guide Kovacs Zita. 


The locals in Darjiu are proud of their church, which they say it is 'a great value for the village,' 'an old legacy' and they receive with open arms all those who want to see one of the most special fortified churches in Transylvania and to see a custom preserved for hundreds of years.AGERPRES