The construction of the cathedral was determined by a very important episode in the history of Romania, the coronation of the king Ferdinand and queen Mary as kings of Great Romania, on October 15th, 1922. Even though Ferdinand was the king of Romania since 1914, in 1918 the country doubled its territories and population. Almost a new country, the Great Romania felt the need of a certification, a ceremony that should have reinforced the historic work from 1918.
For that purpose the cathedral was built and finished in 1922. When the works began in 1919, a part of the Saint Michael bastion and ravelin was demolished in order to allow the execution of the construction and to make possible the erection of the esplanade and the open space in front of the new cathedral. In the last few years, the wall of the citadel was rebuilt in the area in front of the cathedral.
From an architectural perspective, the cathedral is an example of neo-brancovenesc style and of the national architecture current promoted in the first decades of the 20th century. The entrance through the bell tower is guarded by the busts of the king Ferdinand and the queen Mary, a recent sculptural ensemble. The 52 meters tall (including the cross) bell tower, along with the tower of the Catholic cathedral, dominates the perspective of the city seen in the distance but is about three meters shorter than the catholic one.
The plan of the church itself is a plane Greek cross, with an open balcony surrounded by strong columns with composite capitals and it reproduces the plan of the church of the Royal Court in Targoviste, with an impressive dome in the middle placed on top of four red marble columns.
Four commemorative slabs are decorating the balcony walls, remembering us of some important historic moments in Alba Iulia: the union under Michael the Brave; the print of the New Testament in Balgrad; the Uprising of Horea, Closca and Crisan; the “reunification” moment in October 1948, hence the present name of Reunification Cathedral (unlike the historic name of Reunification Cathedral). It is worth mentioning that the moment celebrated in 1948 is a sad one: it is about the decree and the intervention of Stalinist type through which the Greek-Catholic church was dismissed (the main reason for this was the fact that this church was closer to the Western European space), the clergy and the communities were forced to accept the Orthodoxy. The term “reunification” does not have an ethnic, national connotation as one may think, but it refers to the spiritual “reunification” of the Romanian in Transylvania.
The pictures inside, realized by Costin Petrescu, show us classic themes of the Orthodox iconography but also the portraits of the bishops under whose authority the cathedral was built, that is to say Nicolae Balan, metropolitan of Ardeal, Banat and Maramures, and the portrait of Miron Cristea, archbishop of Bucharest and the patriarch of Romania. In the narthex the portraits of Michael the Brave and Lady Stanca, his wife, the founders of the first Orthodox Metropolitan in Alba Iulia, and in the nave the portraits of the monks named Visarion Sarai and Sofronie from Cioara can be seen, characters associated with the resuscitation of the Orthodoxy in Transylvania during the 18th century. On each side of the entrance in the nave the portraits of the king Ferdinand and the queen Mary were painted, in the same outfit they wore for the ceremony on October 15th, 1922.
The architectonic ensemble contains other pavilions placed around the inner courtyard. In the galleries that surround the inner courtyard one can see archaeological pieces from the Roman period to the 18th century times, placed here when the museum functioned in the eastern side of the ensemble.
On October 15th, 1922, the royal couple received the crowns of kings of Romania, during a very sumptuous ceremony to which representatives of the royal and imperial houses, officials and personalities from all over the world participated. Among the presents ones we can mention Maria the queen of Yugoslavia and Elisabeta, the queen of Greece, princess Beatrice of Bourbon, the duke of York, general Berthelot and general Weygand, the delegates of Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Serbian-Croatian Kingdom, Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Poland, United States of America and Japan. Like on December 1st, 1918, although in smaller number, in Alba Iulia arrived trains with peasants led by priests and teachers, delegates from almost all counties, dressed for the event, students from Bucharest and Cluj, professors, pupils from the primary schools and high schools. On Sunday, October 15th, 8 in the morning all the Romanian and foreign invitees arrived. After about an hour, in Alba Iulia railway station the royal train arrived bringing king Ferdinand, queen Mary and all the other members of the Royal families. The royal retinue went to the new cathedral. The religious service was performed by the metropolitan of Ardeal, Nicolae Balan. He read the Gospel and the prime metropolitan Miron Cristea said the prayer for the health of the king and queen, and then he blessed the royal crowns and cloaks. The actual coronation was performed in front of the bell tower. The president of the Senate made the coronation speech and Ferdinand addressed the audience highlighting the importance of the moment that symbolized “the union of all countries inhabited by Romanians”. 20000 peasants from the entire country participated to the event and they were spoiled with roast steaks, enough for everybody, and 40000 soldiers representing all arms performed the parade of the troops.
Scientific consultant: Tudor Roșu, PhD historian
Translation made by: Ciprian Dobra, PR expert
The Coronation Cathedral is the first important religious site built in Transylvania after the 1918 Union. The Orthodox Place of Worship was erected specifically for the coronation of the King Ferdinand and Queen Maria, as monarchs of united Romania, on 15 October 1922. The foundation stone of the cathedral was laid on 28 March 1921 and the construction works lasted about 9 months.
From an architectural perspective, the cathedral was built in the Neo-Brâncovenesc style – the national architectural trend promoted during the debut decades of the twentieth century. Both the 52-meter-high bell tower and the tower of the Catholic Cathedral dominate the city view seen from afar The Orthodox bell tower is about three meters shorter than the Catholic one. The entrance is made under the bell tower which is guarded by two busts representing King Ferdinand and Queen Maria (a recently added sculptural ensemble).
The plan is an inscribed Greek cross – specific to Orthodox ecumenical or episcopal churches – which draws upon the Târgovişte Princely church, with an impressive central dome resting on four red marble columns.
The porch’s niches display marble plates commemorating four historical events of Alba Iulia: the union of the three Romanian principalities achieved by Michael the Brave in 1600; printing the New Testament from Bălgrad; the uprising of Horea, Cloşca and Crişan and the moment of „reunification”. The latter refers to the restoration of spiritual and religious unity of Romanians in Transylvania (1948), when the Greek-Catholic Church was abolished, and the Greek Catholic clergy and parishioners were forced to embrace Orthodoxy – hence the name of the Reunification Cathedral.
The portraits of the founders of the first Orthodox Metropolis in Alba Iulia, Mihai Viteazul and Mrs. Stanca, are painted in the cathedral’s narthex. On both sides of the entrance to the central nave, there are the portraits of King Ferdinand and Queen Mary, dressed in the garments worn at the crowning ceremony in Alba Iulia. The pictorial decoration depicts classical themes of Orthodox iconography and bears the signature of Costin Petrescu, who is recognized in Europe as a master of the fresco.
The architectural ensemble comprises pavilions which are located around the inner courtyard and host the headquarters of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Alba Iulia, which has jurisdiction over the churches in the Alba and Mureş counties.
Within the galleries surrounding the inner courtyard, you can also see archaeological pieces which date from the Roman period until the eighteenth century. The pieces were stored here since the city’s museum functioned in the eastern wing of the ensemble.
The most important event that was organized here was the Coronation of 15 October 1922, which was attended by representatives of royal or imperial houses, officials and political figures from all over the world – reflecting the Romania’s prestige at that time. The actual coronation took place in front of the bell tower under a sumptuous canopy. The event was also attended by 20,000 peasants from all over the country; moreover, 40,000 soldiers of all branches provided a troop parade. King Ferdinand’s message to the crowds emphasized the importance of the act that symbolized the „union of all the countries inhabited by Romanians”. We can say that the 1918 Union Act was concluded both officially and celebratory by the Crowning of King Ferdinand in Alba Iulia.