The Abbey of Cârța, the last trace of Cistercians in Transylvania, 800 years ago

by Victor Grigore, Webphoto.ro

The abbey at Cârța was established in 1205, or maybe next year by the Cistercian monks at the behest of Hungarian king Emerich, who was continuing a project of the Arpad dynasty of colonizing Transylvania.

Prior to that, these monks, coming from Burgundy, a region in the east of France had established the first monastery of their order in modern day Romania at Ingriș (near Timișoara). But that one only left us archeological traces.

In 1225, the Abbey at Cârța is already mentioned in a papal document. It was a development hub in the region, owning ten villages and bringing Saxon settlers in.

The Cistercians are one of the major monastic orders in Catholic world, derived from the most popular, the Benedictines. They switched the black garments of these for white ones and put an emphasis on work, modesty and austerity. The name comes from the Latin Cistercium (“reeds”), which translates the French Citeaux, the place where they emerged.

The order appeared in the 12th century, but was decisively transformed by Bernard of Clairvaux, who was the nephew of one of the founding members of the Templar Knights Order. It must have been quite an event when the young noble Bernard decided to join the monastery accompanied by no less than 35 of his relatives and friends. In a short while, he took over like an ambitious CEO, and developed a continental network of subsidiary abbeys.

The network of the Cistercians, that would eventually grow as large as 700 monasteries throughout Europe, mirrors the network of the Templars. Saint Bernard lobbied for their recognition and gained for the Templars papal support. Later, the knightly order gained fiscal privileges and were allowed to travel freely across border, developing a powerful multinational banking network. Centuries after their protector, the Templars fell into disgrace and were banned for controversial accusations that went as far as satanism and homosexuality.

Bernard of Clairvaux also inspired the second crusade and defended Jews in the Rin valley against Christians who were accusing them of tax evasion and not supporting the crusade.

The Cistercians were also famous for creating their own architectural style – dubbed by some as the most beautiful of the Middle Ages. Their style was a bridge between Romanic and Gothic. They preferred to build with stone, which explains the durability. Following the taste of Bernard, they were almost iconoclasts, reducing to a bare minimum imagery and sculpted decorations. Cistercian style made the transition from the barrel arch to the pointed arch.

In Transylvania, the Cistercians brought elements that would later flourish in Gothic cathedrals. Even in the walls that are still standing at Cârța, we see an oculus – a round window, that would be adorned with stained glass in later periods. Also, we recognize the pointed arch. This abbey was inspired by models from Saxony and it was lucky to survive the great Mongol invasion of 1241, that destroyed its bigger sister at Ingriș. An abbey is a larger type of Catholic monastery, as compared to a priory. The latter could be used by itinerary monks, while an abbey is more established and usually has an activity (such as farming) that makes it self sufficient.

The small village of Cârța is to be found at the northern end of Transfăgărășan, the spectacular road across Carpathians. It is between the large cities of Sibiu and Făgăraș, on European Road E68, close to Avrig town.

Mai multe despre: Religious architecture, Romania
Other pages