„SAINT MICHAEL” ROMAN-CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL
With its tower of 51.5 m (56.7 m with the cross), the Roman-Catholic cathedral has been the tallest building both in Alba Iulia and the entire Alba county for centuries. Dedicated to St. Michael, the patron saint of the city, it is also the oldest building that still continues to function in the city.
During Bishop Ladislau Geréb (1476-1502), a Roman marble epigram was embedded near the building entrance. It was dedicated to Iulia Domna, Emperor Caracalla’s mother, a fact that led many scholars to believe that the name “Alba Iulia” had come from her.
The Roman Catholic Cathedral is considered to be the third religious edifice built on the same site. Its dating after the year 1200 as the second cathedral has been generally accepted in recent decades. The building was robbed and set on fire during a Mongol invasion in 1241 and it is also certain today that by 1277, when a great uprising of the Transylvanian Saxons took place, the first construction stage had been finished. That year, the Transylvanian Saxons of Sebeş and Ocna Sibiului, under the leadership of Gaan, attacked the cathedral and caused destruction and subsequent restoration works began another construction stage. The edifice acquired Gothic elements which were performed by French craftsmen and other such Gothic interventions followed, some of which being carried out with the support of Governor John of Hunedoara.
The monument hence belongs to the Romanesque and Gothic style and there are many French inspired elements. These are explained by the fact that for a long time during the construction stage, the Catholic bishops having their headquarters in Alba Iulia, such as, for instance, Adrian (1182-1202) were studying in France. The edifice is a Romanic basilica with three naves, a tower over the atrium and two towers on the western side. Subsequent additions like Lázó Chapel, of Renaissance style, did not affect the initial shape of the cathedral.
The towers of the cathedral were burnt in 1603 and Prince Gabriel Bethlen restored them, the southwest one in 1614 and the northwest one in 1618. During the Principality of Transylvania, the cathedral was owned by the Reformed Church, and during the Habsburg occupation, it returned to the Roman Catholic Church. The stonemasons who decorated the fortifications in the eighteenth century added the statues of kings and bishops in the niches of the gable. In fact, the current statues on the facade are replicas of the original statues which kept inside. They depict the kings St. Stephen and Ladislau the Holy and the bishops St. Adalbert and St. Gerhard, respectively.
The construction benefited from some major restoration works in the early twentieth century.
The cathedral is also a genuine Transylvanian pantheon. John Hunyadi, Voivode of Transylvania and Governor of Hungary, is one of the many personalities buried here. His sarcophagus is in the southern side aisle near the memorials tombs of his younger brother, Johannes Miles, and his older son, Ladislau. However, accurate identification of the sarcophagi is contested by some historians. The tomb which is generally considered to be of John has got Hungarian and Romanian crowns placed on them, a sign of appreciation by both nations. John died of plague in the Zemun camp in 1456 after he won a remarkable victory against the Turks in Belgrade, reprieving their invasion into Central Europe for a long time. Even today, John Hunyadi is celebrated in Catholic churches around the world for his victories in the “Long Campaign” and the great victory of July 22, 1456, at the end of which Sultan Mehmed II (the newly Conqueror of Constantinople) was forced to abandon his offensive to Europe. Pope Calixtus III thus called him “the most powerful athlete of Christ”.
In the northern side aisle there are the sarcophagi of Queen Isabella and her son, John Sigismund.
Isabella was the wife of John Zápolya, Voivode of Transylvania and King of Hungary (1526-1540, at the time of his dispute with Ferdinand of Habsburg for the crown). Isabella, born in 1519, was the daughter of the King of Poland. She was a very educated woman and she spoke four languages. Her husband died when John Sigismund was only two weeks old in 1540. Her regency, and then the rule of her son John Sigismund (Isabella died in 1559) were linked to a dim period of Transylvania’s history when Hungary became a pashalic in 1541. At that time, the lands to the east of the river Tisza (Transylvania) were left by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the possession of John Sigismund under the regency of his mother. Transylvania became a principality and had to pay tribute to Istanbul, like Wallachia and Moldavia. Then Habsburg and Ottoman interests also confronted in Transylvania. After more than a decade of peace (Oradea, 1538) the army of King of Hungary, Ferdinand I, led by General Castaldo seized power from Isabella and his son. They returned in 1556 with Ottoman help and the rulers of Wallachia and Moldavia, Pătraşcu the Good and Alexandru Lăpuşneanu respectively. John Sigismund was brought back to power on this occasion. Sometime later, in March 1565, he acknowledged (but recanted in April) the sovereignty of Maximilian I (member of the House of Habsburg), King of Hungary. Suleiman thus undertook a new campaign in 1566 until he reached the walls of the Szigetvár fortress (Hungary) where he died. The subsequent agreement between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans placed Transylvania’s existence within the sphere of influence of the latter. As regent, Isabella promulgated the decisions of the Diet of Torda (March 17, 1558), which recognized Catholic and Evangelical-Lutheran confessions, forbidding instead the Calvinist confession.
John Sigismund died as a young man in 1571, just one year after he gave up the title of king and became prince.
Scientific consultant: Tudor Roșu, PhD historian
Translation made by: Ciprian Dobra, PR expert
Built 800 years ago, the Roman Catholic Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in Transylvania. It has also the oldest and tallest building both in Alba Iulia and the Alba County for centuries. Its 56.7 meter tower dominates the city skyline seen from afar.
The cathedral is considered to be the third religious building on the same site. It is built out of stone blocks from the walls of the Roman camp at Apulum. The works started at the beginning of the thirteenth century. From an architectural perspective, the edifice encompasses all styles used between the tenth and thirteenth centuries: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. The Romanesque is the most prominent. Started in this period, the construction of the cathedral lasted for decades, gradually adopting other architectural and decorative solutions that fit stylistically with the Gothic style. The interior remarkably mirrors the gothic style as well. Moreover, another notable intervention that is still visible today dates from the Renaissance. It is the Lázó chapel, located on the northern side.
The cathedral has witnessed remarkable events such as the entrance of Michael the Brave in the citadel of Bălgrad in 1599. The patron saint of the Cathedral is St. Michael, the patron saint of Alba Iulia.
Following the Reformation in Transylvania, the Roman-Catholic Diocese of Alba Iulia was abolished in 1565, and the Cathedral returned to Calvinist Protestants. We can speak about embellishment and renovation works after 1716, when the cathedral was owned again by the Roman Catholic Church. For instance, the four baroque statues on the northern side of the cathedral date since then. They depict Hungary’s holy kings, Stephen and Ladislau, and the bishops Adalbert and Gherardus. Currently, on the western front of the cathedral, you can see replicas of the original statues which are kept inside.
The cathedral is also a genuine Transylvanian pantheon. The southern side of the nave shelters the sarcophagus of Iancu de Hunedoara (Voievode of Transylvania and Governor of Hungary). The crowns, both Hungarian and Romanian, are placed on the tomb of the voivode, a sign of appreciation by both nations. The opposite nave shelters the tombs of John Sigismund (the first Prince of Transylvania) and the one of his mother, Isabella (Queen of Hungary). The Roman-Catholic Cathedral is unique both in Transylvania and in this part of Europe, by its age of more than eight centuries, and also by architectural elements that have harmoniously integrated into the structure of the edifice. There are enough reasons for us to consider the cathedral as the most important monument in Alba Iulia.