Cristian Badoiu (Romania):
The church of Densus is the most impressive example out of a group of ancient churches around the small town of Hateg, in the south-west of the Romanina region of Transylvania. There is a lot of old and on-going debates about many of this churches, and Densus is definitely the most debated. It is (seemingly) the oldest church in Romania.
There are several things making the church stand out of many religious monuments:
- very small size, pointing back to a time when village churches were hard to construct, but massive appearance
- most of the building material is of Roman origins - a very important Roman city as well as many smaller settlements lie nearby, and that provided the building materials (there are even a few carved stone with inscriptions in Latin in the church... and the four pillars are all made out of Roman pagan altars and toomb stones); also some Roman carved lions added to adorn the roof. One can easily write a book alone about the Roman material at Densus!
- the roof of the pyramid-shaped tower also consists of stone, insted of tiles or shindle (typical for the old churches in this region). The roof above the half-rounded choir is also made out of stone.
- strange architecture all together - it has some clear features pointing to the Romanesque, but it's an unusual Romanesque; or a Romanesque architecture addapted to the construction materials available (the four mentioned Roman pillars in the nave), as well as to the orthodox religion. Just to mention: alone the presence of the Romanesque so far East is worth mentioning; there was never much Romanesque architecture around here, and very little survived. And it's original, a far cry from the "standard". Anyway, the Romanesque style from Densus is almost clearly XIII-th, and not XIV-th century as the official site proposal says.
- the inner frescoes are newer (starting with the XV-th century) and there is more valuable Middle-Age frescoes in Romania. But it's typical and it adds to the value, when combined with the rest of the church.
Based on the strange look of the church and the abbondance of Roman material (both ornamental and structural), there have been hypotesis of the church being a "re-used" pagan temple of Mars, or the tombal monument of a Roman general. Up to now there is not enough evidence to support this. One must understand though, that this ideeas came mostly out of some un-commong - and hard to understand - features of the monument.
What is clear: the church of Densus is one of the very rare testimonies of Romanian religious life in the Transylvanian early Middle-Age (it was early Middle-Age there in the XIII-th century) - the latter was suppresed under harsh restrictions from the catholic church, but Densus somehow survived. Also the combination of structure, ornamental details and frescoes make it a typical and highly valuable example of Middle-Age in a Romanian village.
Tourism: there is a good asphalted road leading into the small village of Densus. Nearest international airport is Timisoara, from there head east via Lugoj - Caransebes - Sarmisegetuza - Pesteana, cca. 160 km. Decent 3* accommodation available at many pensions in the Rau Mare Valley in the nearby Retezat Mts. (the Retezat National Park has also been proposed for the list...).
The church has a "medium" fame in Romania, and the Romanian state did little to restore / preserve it. To the connoisseurs is well-known the personal money sponsored by the former US ambassador in Romania, Mr. Michael Guest, into the restauration of the monument, and his active (but only partly succesfull) lobby at the Romanian government.
Today, the church is in very good shape. The church is still in use by the orthodox community, being the only church in the village.
The structural and historical connections to other ancient and valuable churches in the vicinity is interesting. Those from Strei, Santamarie-Orlea and Strei-Sangeorgiu belong to this group and are definitely worth mentioning (saddly virtually unknown to the public...), besides a handfull of others belonging to the same group.
As a tour guide, I have been there with many groups of foreign tourists - almost all of them people with an educated taste and academic background. And there was ALLWAYS the "wow" effect at the tourists.
Date posted: November 2008
Have you been to L'église de Densus? Share your experiences!