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Black church

Black Church arises like a giant in the midst of other buildings from the center of Brașov, Romania.  It was built during the 14 – 15 century in Gothic style and it is 89 m long, 38 m wide and 42 m high.

The large-scale building of the church, dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary, began in 1383. It was supported by the Catholics using letters of indulgence and numerous donations from kings, popes and high clerics. The impressive size, which makes the Black Church the largest church building from the Southeast Europe, was not a result of real need of space, but an expression of political and economic power of the citizens. After Luther’s Reform started in west Europe, the new ideas reached Transylvania too, where they found fertile soil. The people of Brașov were the first in Transylvania who decided to follow a new direction in their faith by implementing the reform.

Johannes Honterus (1498-1549), played an important role as a reformer in Transylvania. He wrote the ‘Booklet of the Reform’ and persuaded the council of Brașov to implement the Reform in the city. In 1544 he was elected as first evangelic parish priest and the church ceased to be a Catholic church and became an Evangelical Lutheran Church.

In 1689 a great fire broke out and the entire town went up in flames. The church burnt down as well. The roof and a large part of the objects from the interior were torched. Due to this fire and the colour of stones after the fire the church was renamed Black Church.

When you enter in the Black Church yard coming from Council Square of Brașov, it is like you go back in time. The pavement is old and you can feel the stones under your feet. If you walk around the Black Church through the church yard,  you can see the old buildings surrounding the Black Church. Two of them belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brașov. In front of the church stands the evangelic parish house built during the 14 century. In the right part stands the Honterus High School, built in 1541. Between the church and the high school stands the imposing statue of Johannes Honterus, the first Lutheran Evangelical priest and the founder of the school, pointing out with his right hand toward the school and holding in his left hand an open book, that bears the titles ‘Booklet of the Reform’ and ‘School Regulation’. The statue shows us that there is a strong relation between the Reform in Transylvania initiated by Honterus and the school founded by the same person. For Honterus it was not enough to reform the religion of the people but he also reformed the education system and set up the foundation for modern schools in Romania.

The church building is made out of huge stones with no plaster or paint. If you go near the building you can see, touch and smell the stones over which the centuries have passed. On some of the rocks in the northern part of the building rose moss tree. If you look up, you feel small compared to the 42-meters building and 65-meters tower.

The doors are made of old carved wood. When you enter through the door you can see the colour and smell the old wood. If you open or close the door, you can hear the sound of the old hinges and door handles. All the side doors are closed. You can enter just through the biggest door in front of the church building.

Above the main door there is a 65-meter tower with a big clock on the front side. In the tower there are three bells. The big bell weights 6000 kg and was cast in 1858. The middle bell was cast in 1839  and weighs about 1000 kg. The smallest bell weights 250 kg and is dated from 1791. In order to toll the big bell manually, six men were needed. Since 1970 the bells are tolled electrically. The middle bell is tolled in the morning, at noon and in the evening on work days, announcing the services. It also tolls for funerals or danger. You can hear the sound from far away and the sound wears with it the history and the events announced over the centuries.

Once you enter the main door, through the porch, you arrive in the central Nave, the biggest part of the interior building. In the back there are the tailors’ pews decorated with two tables illustrating the ten virtues: Diligence, Hope, Wisdom, Temperance, Chastity, Patience, Generousness, Love, Goodness and Godliness.

If you take a look in the central nave, you can see the pulpit high in the center of the nave. In an evangelical service, the most important element is the sermon. This is why the baroque pulpit is placed high in the center of the church space. Symbolically Moses with the Tablets of the Law bears the pulpit. Above the pulpit there is a roof and on the roof are carved the four evangelists. Above all, it is carved the risen, glorious Christ with a flag in his hand. The staircase to the pulpit is closed by a wooden door, displaying a passage from the Bible, from Jeremiah 1, The Call of Jeremiah.

In order to listen to the sermon and to see the preacher, the members of the congregation sit down. After the reformation the church was filled with benches and pews. The members of the congregation were able to sit in pews, grouped by their guild. The leaders of the city sat in their pews in front of the pulpit. The members of the poor guilds placed theirs pews in the most remote corners of the central nave, far from the pulpit. The place occupied in the church by one member was an image of his guild and social status. The pews are located on margins and the benches in the middle are for visitors or poor members. The benches allow the visitors to face the altar at the beginning of the religious service, afterward turning backward to the pulpit in order to listen the sermon.

As you go toward the altar on the left side you can admire a big oil painting on the wall which represents Honterus reading his “Booklet of the Reform” in front of the council and the group of the One Hundred, on December 26, 1543. This was the decisive moment when the council decided to implement the Reform in Brașov and the church was turned from a Catholic church to an Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The triumphal arch separates the altar from the central nave. Under the triumphal arch there is a bronze baptismal font. It was cast in 1472 and is surrounded by a wrought-iron gate. It is the baptismal where baby children were baptized.

On the right side of the baptismal font, after the triumphal arch, stands the chancel, a place reserved for the priest and the choir. In the middle of the chancel, stands the Altar constructed in 1866. In the middle of the altar there is a big painting which represents Jesus during the sermon on the Mount. On both sides of this painting there are statues representing the four evangelists, two of them on each side. Under the big painting there is a relief which shows the oath of the councilmen on the ‘Booklet of the Reform’ written by Honterus.

Even if Luther preached the salvation through faith only and the priesthood of all believers, the reformed church buildings remained the same with a separate place for clerks and baptismal where baby children continued to be baptized before being able to believe in Christ.

If you turn back, you can contemplate the big organ standing on the gallery at the end of the Nave. The central element of the evangelical worship is the participation of the community in communal singing. The accompanying instrument and the music are very important. The big organ has 3993 pipes and the largest pipes are up to ten meters high. It has 4 manuals of 56 keys, one pedal of 27 keys and 76 steps. The organ was built between 1836 and 1839 and was restored between 1998 and 2001. The big organ is still in use nowadays during the traditional concert held in Black Church and is the main attraction for the visitors.

When I entered the church as a visitor, I paid a ticket. Inside the church it was very cold. They could not heat the building during the winter, because it is too expensive, so the few remnant members of the congregation moved their services in a smaller building.

I was very impressed by the beginning and the history of this church. It was the center of life in the city and the priest was an important man heard by the ruler of the city. I was also impressed that in an orthodox and catholic country Honterus could bring the reformation and all the city was converted to the Evangelical Lutheran creed.

I was very sad to see the fall of the great church. It is a cold and empty building visited by tourists and from time to time there are hosted concerts. But what is the church? Is it a building? In the time of Jesus and the apostles there were no dedicated buildings. They were meeting in homes. The church is the Bride of Christ, is the Body of Christ, is the House of the Lord. It is not a building. It is not a denomination and it is not an organization. It is the people of God from all nations, tribes and languages who have believed in Christ and “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. This is the church that Jesus said about: “the gates of Hades will not overcome it”.